Editorial: The future is fast approaching

The North Fork, which on a map looks like a gnarled finger pointing out to sea, does not enjoy a topography that will easily deal with the rising ocean temperatures and sea levels brought by climate change.

In several places, the peninsula narrows to just the width of a road, with salt water on both sides. In just the past few months we have seen increasingly high tides — including one earlier this month — that surrounded multi-million-dollar waterfront homes and cut off several access roads.

There is nothing theoretical about what’s going on. Climate change is here, it’s underway and we are seeing its impact. By all predictions, it will get worse. 

On April 4, during a wind-driven high tide, the bay in New Suffolk splashed over First Street and encroached on east-facing businesses. Southold Highway Superintendent Dan Goodwin drove to the scene in the middle of the night to see for himself.

“The water was very high,” he said recently. “It was well over where Captain Marty’s Fishing Station used to be and up onto First Street.”

Southold Town is in the process of mapping the streets most vulnerable to non-storm— and even non-moon-phase — flooding, such as low-lying Grathwohl Road in New Suffolk, which skirts the eastern edge of West Creek. Town officials need to prioritize this effort so waterfront homeowners know what they’re facing and residents are fully aware of what it will cost to raise roads and protect properties.

Some context: “The ocean has now broken temperature records every day for more than a year,” according to a recent New York Times story. “And so far, 2024 has continued 2023’s trend of beating previous records by wide margins. In fact, the whole planet has been hot for months, according to many different data sets.”

Last month, according to the story, “the average global sea surface temperature reached a new monthly high of 21.07 degrees Celsius, or 69.93 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a research institution funded by the European Union.”

With all this swirling in the background, Cutchogue resident John Gibbons’ April 9 presentation to the Southold Town Board was timely and important. His talk was filled with data points and real science. Although he spoke to Southold officials, everything he said applies equally to Riverhead and the other East End towns. We are all in the same boat.

Mr. Gibbons is a retired Mattituck High School teacher. His goal was to alert board members to the harsh reality of climate change and the threat it poses to the region’s unique geography. He quoted numbers procured from scientific and government sources, including the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

“About two feet of sea level rise along the U.S. coastline is increasingly likely between 2020 and 2100 because of emissions to date,” Mr. Gibbons said, quoting the NOAA 2022 Sea Level Rise Technical Report. “They’re not including future emissions.”

He went on to read from the report: “Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5 to 5 feet of rise for a total of 3.5 to 7 feet by the end of this century.’”

One of the effects of climate change most detrimental to region’s future, Mr. Gibbons explained, is the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.

“We’re talking about Southold disappearing,” he said. “That’s not going to happen next year, that’s not going to happen in 2100, but if we care about Southold Town, we have to start thinking about that.”

As new administrations in Riverhead and Southold move forward, they must confront the reality of what is happening all around us. Perhaps a joint commission — even one that works with Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island — staffed by experts, would be a way for the public to better understand what we are truly facing.

A note from the Publisher: Subscription pricing change

The mission of Times Review Media Group is to provide the very best in community journalism. Beginning May 23, we will be asking more of our readers to help support this mission.

Our industry continues to be disrupted by media giants like Google and Meta, owner of Instagram and Facebook. Simultaneously, demographics on the North Fork and Shelter Island continue to shift at an incredibly rapid rate. Second-home buyers are displacing longtime residents and making our communities even more seasonally driven. This is leading to steep declines in area school enrollments, volunteers in our local fire departments and rescue squads and year-round customers for local businesses. The workforce housing crisis is also making it much more difficult to hire and retain talented staff. 

We take great pride in our ability to adapt our business by embracing these changes and expanding the distribution of our award-winning content to include digital, social media, print and live events like the “Future of Greenport” panel discussion in March at the Greenport American Legion. 

Driven by unrelenting cost increases and our desire to continue to invest in our journalism, we must ask our readers to pay more to support our mission. Effective May 23, our annual print subscription rate, which includes complete digital access, will be $98. The cost of an annual digital subscription will be $64, and recurring monthly digital subscriptions will cost $7.50. Our last subscription increase was more than five years ago, in 2019. 

If you have questions or need assistance with subscription-related issues, please contact circulation manager Keysha Terry at [email protected]. Additional questions can be directed to publisher Andrew Olsen at [email protected].

We appreciate the commitment you, our readers, have made to us. Our talented staff will continue to strive to produce top-quality content that we hope makes a positive difference in your lives and in our shared community.