07/06/15 5:00am
07/06/2015 5:00 AM

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati has become the first country in the world to declare that climate change is rendering it uninhabitable.

Unfamiliar with the name? Try Gilbert Islands, its former name. And the World War II generation will know the Battle of Tarawa, the site of one of the bloodiest in U.S. Marine Corps history. It was a critical battle to free the Gilberts after a Japanese invasion and two years of occupation.

Now Kiribati, an independent country since 1979, with a population of 103,000, is facing another invasion. Its 33 low-lying islands are being attacked by a rising sea, a result of climate change, also interchangeably called global warming. Kiribati’s government last year began purchasing land for evacuating its people — eight square miles on Vanua Levu, one of the Fiji Islands, 1,200 miles away.

Other Pacific island countries are expected to follow Kiribati’s lead and declare themselves uninhabitable in the next few years, while major parts of other nations will also be decimated by climate change. An anticipated 3-foot rise in sea level will put one seventh of Bangladesh underwater, for example.

We here have more time, but not as much as one would think, before things get bad and then worse on Long Island and New York City. Significant portions of both are expected to be hit hard in coming decades by sea level rise.

Preparing for this, last week the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held four public meetings, two on Long Island and two in the city, to seek citizen input on a report of the Sea Level Rise Task Force created by the state in 2007.

The DEC sums up the report on its website. The DEC states: “By 2100 scientists project that sea levels along New York’s coastlines and estuaries will likely be 18 to 50 inches higher, though they could be as much as 75 inches higher.” With much of Long Island and New York City, only 2, 3, 4 and 5 feet above sea level, those kinds of increases could be devastating.

There are projections of the sea level rise at Montauk Point. In the decade starting with 2020, they range from a low of 2 inches above the levels of the last decade to a high of 10; in the decade starting with 2050 an increase of 8 and a high of 30 inches; in the decade beginning with 2080; a low of 13 and high of 58; and in 2100 a prediction of a total low of 15 and a high of 72 inches.

Long Island naturalist Larry Penny says low-lying downtown Montauk could be especially hard hit, along with other areas of the town. Indeed, much of the Napeague stretch between Montauk and Amagansett could end up underwater with Montauk becoming several islands.

As for Shelter Island, he said, “Shelter Island is pretty high,” but land along the Ram Island causeway “is vulnerable.”

Commenting on other vulnerable Long Island locations, Mr. Penny, former director of the East Hampton Department of Environmental Protection, cited parts of East Hampton, Noyac, North Sea, “downtown Sag Harbor especially,” Shirley (where one of the DEC meetings was held), “Westhampton Beach is very vulnerable,” Mastic, Mattituck, “Riverhead is very low” and Fire Island, among other locations.

“New York City will have a hell of a time,” he said. “Scary.”

The DEC also notes: “Most of the sea-level rise observed to date has been due to the thermal expansion of warming waters. But today, added water from melting glaciers and land ice sheets is starting to contribute more to sea-level rise than heat-driven expansion of existing seawater. And the Arctic and Antarctic have abundant supplies of land ice yet to melt, all of which will add to sea levels.”

The report offers recommendations, such as: “Provide financial support, guidance and tools for community-based vulnerability assessments … Support increased reliance on non-structural measures and natural protective features to reduce impacts … Raise public awareness of the adverse impacts of sea-level rise and climate change and of the potential adaptive strategies.”

Key issues in climate change are the burning of fossil fuels that have caused global warming. As important in increasing global warming is denial of the situation, led in the U.S. by Republican leaders of Congress. We must move to a society energized 100 percent by clean, green power. And reality must be recognized.

Otherwise we will see more plaintive declarations such as these on the national website of Kiribati — “Although in most of the world there is some time to plan and prepare for climate change, Kiribati is the first to feel its effects as a direct threat to continued life in our country … In Kiribati, the entire nation faces real danger — our own survival is at stake as a people, as a unique and vibrant culture and as a sovereign nation.” And little Kiribati shares none of the responsibility for the situation. Kiribati’s carbon dioxide emissions have been “lower than any other country except one in the world,” it says.

As Pope Francis emphasized last week in his encyclical on the environment: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political … It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

grossman_karl150 Karl Grossman’s syndicated “Suffolk Closeup” column is printed in the Shelter Island Reporter, a Times/Review Newsgroup publication.

07/05/15 6:00am
07/05/2015 6:00 AM

I am a lucky guy: I have three vacuum cleaners. It took years for this achievement. A story of hope. Each machine promised a dust-free life. Just let the new cleaner run in the house. Sit back, watch and relax. What is dust anyway? I never got a clear answer. All I know is that you can write your name in it wherever it settles. Never makes a sound. A good companion in a way. It doesn’t ask for much except no dusting, please.

Is dust dirty? If you leave it alone it doesn’t move about. If you come with a duster, cruel instrument, then it will fly until it finds another landing patch. I’ve lived with it at times. Then a woman friend comes in, frowns, raises her voice, pulls a broom out of her tiny purse and says, “How can you live like this?” Never try to answer such questions.

The problem with three vacuum cleaners: It raises the issue of choice. Which one to use. A perilous moment. The one with the “long-haired” brush, the one that can climb walls or the cordless that needs recharging just when I want to press on.

Which reminds me: Many years ago I drove in the “Press on Regardless Rallye” in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We started early on bumpy roads and I’d like to report that my Renault won top prize. But it’s not true. We did finish in a cloud of dust, one of the last cars on the road.

“Press on Regardless,” when it involves pushing a recalcitrant vacuum machine around the obstacles scattered in the house, is not quite as noble as negotiating treacherous turns on a dirt road. Although in my house I seem to have done a pretty good job at replicating a Michigan road race. I wonder if some new invention, one day, will come along with a gadget that would swallow all the useless things that we manage to settle in our good homes. A machine that would have better intelligence than I to decide what can stay and what has to go. I classify myself as incompetent in this activity.

Perhaps I was born with a built-in incompetence. It seems that my brother Jean came into this world with an active filing system at his side. Where I stumble confused in search of answers he can pull out a file out of his well-organized cabinet and the answers to all questions are within reach. His speed of knowledge gives him authority. In a peaceful way. No need for loud demonstrations.

I’m running. Late again. Last chance one Saturday in New York City. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise gallery. The first re-creation in the United States of Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses.)” Twelve live horses. A church-like quiet. We don’t speak, we whisper. The horses, tied to walls, stand barely moving. Their magnificent, powerful bodies awaken a sense of peace. So unexpected. An experience of the spirit. At the end of the show, one by one they are taken to a trailer and driven away. The crowd is subdued, in a meditative mood. Not a word spoken. At times the sound of munching or a hoof unsettling the hay covering the floor.

Twelve horses, a work of art. No need for explanations. We just stand and listen to our own silence. So simple. Beautiful. All it takes, a gathering of horses at peace with the world.

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: npgazarian.dc@gmail.com

07/03/15 6:00am
07/03/2015 6:00 AM
John Williams. (Credit: Marty Heitner)

John Williams. (Credit: Marty Heitner)

If you’ve lived on the North Fork for a while, you probably have driven past it numerous times. It’s at the southwest corner of Front and Fourth streets in Greenport, and it’s currently known as The Captain’s Cottage in its most recent iteration as a rental cottage. But before that the little white frame building was the home of Williams & Company, the advertising and public relations firm, and, concurrently and somewhat improbably, the headquarters of the National SCRABBLE ® Association.  (more…)

06/27/15 6:00am
06/27/2015 6:00 AM

I’ve already owned two iPads. My newest MacBook Pro laptop is probably the fourth or fifth computer I’ve used since beginning my career here in 2006. (Some suffered ill fates, such as the laptop that got crushed by a rolling grill in the back of a van. Imagine explaining that to your boss.) I’ve always been careful with cell phones, but even without breaking any, the natural order of progression has required me to cycle through four or five phones in the past nine years. (more…)

06/22/15 6:00am
06/22/2015 6:00 AM

On a May day, 70 years ago, World War II ended in Europe. Myriad books have been written, among the best “The Liberation Trilogy” by Rick Atkinson, which take us across Africa to Tunisia, into Sicily, through Italy and on to the Normandy beaches and Berlin. Atkinson clearly details the strategies, the tactics, the battles, but his gift lies in humanizing those who participated, those who were there. (The trilogy’s titles are “An Army at Dawn,” “The Day of Battle” and “The Guns at Last Light.”) (more…)

06/14/15 5:59am
06/14/2015 5:59 AM
(Credit: Caroline, Flickr)

(Credit: Caroline, Flickr)

A new bill passed unanimously last week by the Suffolk County Legislature will help keep kids healthy by blocking the sale of toys containing potentially unsafe levels of lead and other chemicals linked to serious health conditions.

The Toxin Free Toys Act aims to protect children from toys that contain “potentially unsafe levels of six hazardous chemicals” and known carcinogens, according to a press release. If the proposal is signed into law by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, the county Department of Health will begin notifying retailers in January. Beginning December 2016, inspectors would conduct random checks for unsafe toys at stores using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer, which evaluates the items’ chemical composition.

“As a mother, I am outraged that children’s toys contain these toxic chemicals that can cause cancer, learning and developmental disabilities and respiratory, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disorders,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the bill.

Similar anti-toxin measures were recently signed into law in Albany and Westchester counties.

Under the proposal, toys sold in Suffolk County would only be allowed to contain strictly regulated amounts of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, lead and mercury.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to give anything bad or toxic to a child,” said Kathy Halliwell, owner of Goldsmith’s Toys and Electronics in Greenport. “We carry all quality toys here.”

Suffolk County’s initiative was introduced in response to a report issued by the New York League of Conservation Voters and Clean & Healthy New York that found “several products” containing toxic components on Long Island store shelves.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead paint was banned by the United States in 1978 but is still widely used by other countries in manufacturing toys. Because lead is odorless and invisible to the naked eye, young children can inadvertently expose themselves to it when they put toys that contain lead in their mouths.

While the use of lead paint is prohibited, the use of lead in plastic toys hasn’t been banned in the U.S. According to the CDC, lead softens plastic and makes it more flexible.

Only a certified laboratory can accurately test a toy for lead, the CDC said, and a blood test is the only way a child’s lead levels can be measured.

For a list of recalled toys, visit cpsc.gov.

Have a health column idea or question for Rachel Young? Email her at ryoung@timesreview.com

06/11/15 5:59am
06/11/2015 5:59 AM

I had a few things in mind when I left a good job at the Daily News in 2008 to write for a weekly newspaper in a place I was only vaguely familiar with. For one, I wanted to write stories longer than 600 words and The New York Times wasn’t exactly knocking on my door. I also wanted to write about the people of Long Island, a place to which I felt more of an attachment than any of New York City’s five boroughs. (more…)