Editorial: Frightening predictions on climate change

Last week, buried inside a report released by the Trump administration, a startling prediction about climate change was made public. If nothing is done to put the brakes on rising temperatures, our planet could warm a staggering seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. That’s 82 years from now, easily within the lifetimes of current newborns and young children.

A seven-degree rise in Earth’s temperature would be disastrous for cities along our coastlines but an even larger catastrophe for many countries across the planet that would all but be destroyed by the heat, resulting in a massive refugee crisis.

As a story in The Washington Post stated, “Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.”

In last week’s Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review, former Mattituck High School social studies teacher John Gibbons wrote that the Trump administration’s position that climate change is a hoax runs against the collective findings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and “thousands and thousands of climate scientists who work for the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change …”

Yet, here is the Trump administration offering a grim prediction on the possible rise in worldwide temperatures. Why? As the Post reported, “… the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.”

In other words, the draft report — written and released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — sounds the alarm about climate change, even as the administration moves to freeze stiffer fuel standards for vehicles. The administration’s actions — including pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and eliminating a host of Obama-era regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions — show conclusively that it plans to do absolutely nothing to prevent this prediction from coming true.

It is hard to fathom this level of willful ignorance. Deliberately looking the other way when a storm is approaching, denouncing science as fake and steering federal policies in a direction that will directly imperil future generations is a morally bankrupt approach to governance.

Climate change is already affecting Long Island. It is upon us. Last year’s reports by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, based on research conducted by scientists at Columbia University, Cornell University and Hunter College, show that our sea levels are rising twice as fast as the global average. The DEC reports include a high projection of a sea level rise of six feet by 2100. The policies of the Trump administration could make that even worse.

The DEC states that sea levels in New York have already risen by a foot since 1900. “Energy, land use and infrastructure decisions made now will determine how vulnerable our children and grandchildren will be to rising sea levels,” the report states.

A graphic accompanying the report presents low, medium and high projections for sea level rise on Long Island. The medium projections are scary enough. 2020s: Six inches. 2050s: 16 inches. 2080s: 29 inches. 2100: 36 inches.

The high projection for 2100 is 75 inches. Split the difference between a three-foot and a six-foot rise, and even that will leave large swaths of eastern Long Island waterfront, home to some of the country’s most expensive real estate, completely submerged.

As our tribal culture continues to fracture over divisive issues, this critical threat we all collectively face must be addressed with extreme urgency. It is not a liberal or a conservative matter. Science is science. Willful ignorance is not a viable policy position.