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Thursday
Oct112018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Understand The Consequences Of Climate Change

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Long Islanders should be aware of the projections by Professor Scott A. Mandia of Suffolk County Community College of the consequences if a major hurricane hits Long Island.

“Given public complacency, the amount of people needing to evacuate, the few evacuation routes off Long Island, and the considerable area affected by storm surge, more lead-time is needed for a proper evacuation than in other parts of the country,” says Professor Mandia in a remarkable series of web pages. He is a meteorologist, a Miller Place resident, who teaches courses at the college on weather and climate change. 

The above is on a page where he discusses hurricane prospects for this region. Click on it at http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/hurricane_future.html

As he details on another of his web pages, which we spotlighted in this space last week, a Category 4 hurricane “inundates” with severe flooding “entire communities” on Long Island. He lists community after community. http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/storm_surge_maps.html  

Professor Mandia’s pages say the impacts from a major hurricane “point to a likely future disaster in Suffolk County.” 

The key factor causing loss of life and damage from a hurricane is storm surge. And if a Category 4 hurricane hits Long Island, the storm surge, he says, would be more than 20 feet and as high as 28 and 29 feet, in some areas of Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

The Army Corps of Engineers, in charge of protecting the coast of the U.S. from hurricanes, believes it can win against hurricanes. In 1962, when I started out as a Long Island-based journalist, the Army Corps was first pushing its Fire Island to Montauk Point Project, to bolster 83 miles of Suffolk’s south shore to, in large part, ostensibly withstand hurricanes. The scheme is still around as a $1.3 billion project. But the dunes reinforced in the project would rise, at their highest, to 15 feet—about half the height of the worst hurricane storm surge estimated for Long Island.

Until less than 100 years ago, folks on Long Island wouldn’t think of building houses on its barrier beaches. The most they’d put there would be “shacks”—with no expectation of them lasting a long time.

“Resiliency” is the word the Army Corps and politicians have been using since Sandy in 2012 as to what’s needed to protect Long Island. It’s a nice word, but the Army Corps’ Fire Island to Montauk Point scheme is billion buck wishful thinking. 

Complicating things today, as Professor Mandia notes on his web pages: “Unfortunately, in the past decades, the coastal population has also increased substantially which further increases the hurricane risks.”

And then there is the federally-subsidized flood insurance program that “almost rewards people for building in dumb locations,” said Professor Mandia in an interview.   

The gargantuan elephant in the hurricane room now is climate change. Professor Mandia says climate change, global warming, is responsible for the increased severity of major hurricanes. He explains: “All coastal storms are now worse due to sea level rise caused by human activities that are warming the climate. A warmer climate means more ice melt, which adds water to our oceans. Warmer water expands and thus rises upward, a double-whammy for sea level rise. Imagine a basketball hoop ten feet above the floor and consider a dunk to be a storm over-topping a sea wall or other barrier. Now imagine humans have caused that floor to rise by a foot. It is much easier to dunk a basketball now. More flooding just like we saw in Sandy, Harvey, Maria, Florence and every hurricane from now onward.”

Climate change is caused by the use of fossil fuels. Al Gore, who first took on climate change as a U.S. senator and continued as vice president and now a citizen-activist, said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek last month: “We’re still treating the atmosphere as an open sewer. We’re putting 110 million tons every day of man-made, heat-trapping pollution into the sky….That’s why the oceans are getting so hot. That’s why Hurricane Florence intensified so rapidly. That’s why there are fish from the ocean swimming in the streets of Miami at high tide—because of the melting ice and sea level rise.”

“The scientists were spot on in warning us about all of those consequences,” said Mr. Gore. “Now the evening news every night is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations…This is a really critical choice that we have to make. We must change. The second question: Can we change? We have the ability and the technologies to do it.”

We must eliminate the cause of increasingly severe hurricanes by ending reliance on fossil fuel and moving to green, clean, non-polluting sustainable energy led by solar and wind power.  As Mr. Gore says, “We have the ability and the technologies to do it.”

 

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

Thursday
Oct042018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Thinking About A Hurricane On LI Think Storm Surge 

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

We all worried last month looking at TV and the westward track of Hurricane Florence about the consequences if it hooked to the north and struck in the upper portion of the Atlantic Coast.  That possibility was suggested by some forecasters, but Florence’s track was unswervingly westward—hitting North Carolina head-on.

And Florence was a Category 1 hurricane when it hit the Carolinas—after days of being at Category 4—and still was a “monumental disaster” for North Carolina, as its Governor Roy Cooper put it. What was routinely referred to as a “monster storm” did equivalent damage in South Carolina.

What would be the consequences if a Category 4 hurricane—a level that’s become far, far more frequent these days due to climate change producing warmer water for hurricanes to feed on—smashed into Long Island?

With an analysis of Long Island hurricane impacts is Professor Scott A. Mandia of Suffolk County Community College. He is a meteorologist—with a master’s degree in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University—who teaches courses at Suffolk Community in weather and climate change. He is assistant chair of the college’s Department of Physical Sciences. 

It is not pretty. Indeed, it is downright scary. Click on to see Professor Mandia’s analysis at http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/storm_surge_maps.html 

His analysis states that it would only require a Category 1 storm for Montauk Point to be “completely cut off from the rest of the South Fork.” If there were a Category 3 hurricane, “Much of the North and South Forks are entirely under water.”

A Category 4 hurricane “inundates”—a term widely used by meteorologists these days to describe severe flooding—“entire” areas of Long Island, says Professor Mandia in his analysis. This would include on the East End: North Haven, Greenport, Montauk, Westhampton Beach and Orient. It also “inundates” Shelter Island “except for a few high points,” along with Plum Island and Gardiner’s Island.

A Category 4 hurricane “inundates” in western Suffolk County the “entire” communities of Amityville, Lindenhurst, Babylon, West Islip and Bay Shore, among other areas.

A Category 4 hurricane “inundates” in Nassau County the “entire” communities of Woodmere, Valley Stream, Lynbrook, Long Beach, Atlantic Beach, Lido Beach, Freeport, Merrick and Wantagh, among other areas.    

Professor Mandia’s analysis is part of a series of web pages he presents. They are headed “The Long Island Express, The Great Hurricane of 1938, Long Island Hurricane Climatology.” He is an expert on the Hurricane of 1938 which ravaged Long Island and much of New England exactly 80 years ago last month. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which sets the categories wasn’t in use then, but today the Hurricane of 1938 is considered to have been a Category 3 hurricane when it struck Long Island. 

A Category 4 hurricane is one with a wind speed of 131 to 155 miles per hour; Category 3—111 to 130; Category 2—96 to 110; Category 1—74 to 95.  

Professor Mandia does not make projections for the top category of hurricanes on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, Category 5 with winds of 156 miles per hour and stronger, because there is no evidence that a Hurricane 5 hurricane has struck Long Island. But, he said in an interview, “I wouldn’t be surprised that with warmer water here that at some point this century a Category 5 hurricane will hit Long Island.”

Here, as in the Carolinas, the key issue regarding loss of life and much of damage would not be wind speed but storm surge. Storm surge is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as “the abnormal rise in seawater level during a storm, measured as the height of the water above the normal predicted astronomical tide. The surge is caused primarily by a storm’s winds pushing water onshore.”

It would be, in the case of a Category 4 hurricane, well over 20 feet, as high as 28 and 29 feet, in some areas of Suffolk and Nassau Counties. Click on the map of Long island on Professor Mandia’s analysis and you’ll find the estimated storm surge for where you live.

Professor Mandia says: “Hurricane storm surge causes approximately 90% of all storm deaths and injuries and much of the damage, therefore it is important to residents of Long Island…to be aware of the areas that will be affected by the storm surge. The southern shore of Long Island is most vulnerable to storm surge inundations because hurricane landfall will first occur there and the low elevation will allow sea water to move well inland.”

More next week.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

Thursday
Sep272018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Is It Real Or Is It A Hoax? Alan Abel's Legacy

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

This is a change-of-pace column about a fellow who was among the funniest people I’ve ever known, Alan Abel. “Alan Abel, Ace Hoaxer, Is (Really) Dead at 94,” was the headline last week in The New York Times of a nearly full-page obituary for Alan.

The “Really” in the headline was necessary because back in 1980 Alan tricked The Times into publishing his obituary. The Times acknowledged last week it was “much-abashed” to have been fooled by Alan. It was another successful hoax by indeed the “ace hoaxer” Alan.

I once was asked by Alan to get involved in one of his hoaxes. I had to say no. He invited me to lunch at the Hotel Edison in Manhattan and there laid out the hoax. We would go to Scotland where I would be billed as an award-winning journalist who had captured the Loch Ness monster. A big flatbed truck would be rented and under a canvas tarpaulin would be a huge object, purportedly the body of the monster.  

A feature of the road trip from Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands to London would be having a red liquid—ostensibly blood from the monster—dripping from under the tarpaulin onto the highways which we would traverse.

This would attract, Alan figured, day-by-day coverage by the British press. Then he would introduce me at a press conference in London… At this point, I had to stop him, explaining that my participation in the hoax would eliminate my future as a credible journalist.

The importance of Alan’s hoaxes, I have told my classes in journalism, is they demonstrate how the press can be manipulated, and reflect, too, on how politicians and government officials at times float information that’s close to hoaxes if not being outright false—and media have provided unquestioning coverage. The press, I tell the students, must be extremely careful to avoid being taken in by mistruths that officialdom dispenses. 

Time and time again, Alan fooled the media—to demonstrate, as The Times obituary related, “a highly personal brand of performance art, equal parts of self-promotion, social commentary. study of the breathtaking naivete of press and public, and pure old-fashioned high jinks.”

Even Newsday, which like The Times tries to make sure what it reports is real, was taken in by Alan.  There was “Omar’s School of Beggars,” a school for panhandlers which supposedly opened in Manhattan. Newsday did a multi-page piece in its then weekly magazine on it, featuring “Omar”—actually Alan—his head cloaked in a black hood with openings for eyes and mouth, giving a lecture to “pupils,” in fact, buddies of Alan.  

I first got to know Alan after he launched the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals or SINA, which I thought was especially hilarious. Alan’s friend, Buck Henry, later to co-write the movie The Graduate and regularly host Saturday Night Live, was president under the name G. Clifford Prout, Jr. of this purported organization. Alan was vice president.

photo credit Hoaxes.comA magazine was printed with on its cover a rendition of a horse—in boxer shorts. There was this statement: “We fight for the future now; Let’s clothe every pet and animal/ whether dog, cat, horse or cow! G. Clifford Prout, our President/ he works for you and me. So clothe all your pets and join the march/ for worldwide Decency! S.I.N.A., that’s our call/ all for one and one for all. Hoist our flag for all to see/ waving for Morality. Onward we strive together/ stronger in every way, All mankind and his animal friends/ for SINA, S-I-N-A!”

“A nude horse is a rude horse,” SINA maintained.  

Alan and Buck would visit a zoo and then go to the newspaper office in that city to complain that the animals at its zoo weren’t clothed. This garnered attention.  

One of the most interesting parties I’ve gone to was at Alan’s and his wife Jeanne’s house in Westport, Connecticut. Some of the party extended to a red caboose that Alan somehow got transported to its yard to serve as their daughter Jenny’s playhouse. 

Alan and Jeanne, who loved his sense of humor, joined in a campaign to elect Yetta Bronstein, purportedly a Jewish grandmother from The Bronx, president of the United States.  Jeanne was Yetta. “Vote for Yetta and things will get betta,” was the campaign’s slogan. 

Related last week’s obituary in The Times: “A master psychologist, keen strategist and possessor of an enviable deadpan and a string of handy aliases, Mr. Abel had an almost unrivaled ability to divine exactly what a harried news media wanted to hear and then give it to them, irresistibly gift-wrapped.”

Alan, with Jeanne, produced two films: Is There Sex After Death? and The Faking of the President. He authored books: The Great American Hoax and The Confessions of a Hoaxer and Don’t Get Mad…Get Even! A Manual for Retaliation. In it, Alan gives his solution to how by telephone by claiming to be a doctor one can “get through to a V.I.P” said to be unavailable. “I recommend a pattern of dialogue as follows: ‘Who is calling?’ ‘Dr. Abel…’  ‘I’m sorry, he’s in a conference…’ ‘But I have his x-rays.’ ‘I’ll put you right through.’”

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

Thursday
Sep202018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Time To Think The Impossible Life Without Plastic

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

I’ve been focusing in recent times on plastic—and I’ve not been alone. Media have been doing extensive reporting on the mess being made to the environment by plastic, especially the marine environment and the life in it.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis, who with his “Encyclical on the Environment” in 2015 established himself as highly knowledgeable about the scourge of environmental pollution that has befallen the Earth, and committed to action to try to undo the mess, is now zeroing in on plastic.

“We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic,” said the pope last month. “We need to pray as if everything depended on God’s providence, and work as if everything depended on us.”

The “Sunday Morning” show of CBS-TV in August had a remarkable segment, a “cover story”—its main feature—titled “Piling up: Drowning in a sea of plastic.” 

It began with technology reporter David Pogue declaring: “In the 1950s, a new material burst onto the scene that would change the world forever. Cheap, durable, sanitary, strong, and light…After 65 years of making plastic, we’ve pretty much mastered the art. What we haven’t yet figured out is what to do with plastic once we’re done with it.”

He interviews Roland Geyer, professor of environmental science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who says of plastic: “It lasts a really long time. It doesn’t biodegrade. So, it just sits there…We have statistics reaching all the way back to the dawn of plastic mass production, 1950. And if we add it all together, it’s 8.3 billion metric tons. So, if we take that and spread it out evenly over California, the entire state of California would be covered. And that would be an ugly sight.” Plastic—knee-deep.

They speak about plastic in oceans. “Every single year, somewhere between 5 and 12 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean,” says Dr. Geyer. “Plastic in the ocean has a tendency to break down into other smaller pieces. And these tiny pieces then get taken up even lower down in the food chain. So, we know that it ends up on our dinner plates.”

“Wait a minute – there’s plastic in my food?” asks Mr. Pogue. 

“There is plastic in your food. Plastic in your sea salt. And there is plastic coming out of your tap,” responds Professor Geyer. 

“In fact, at this rate, the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish,” says Mr. Pogue, a calculation we wrote about here this summer.

As to the recycling of plastic—the big pitch by the plastic industry to somehow claim plastic is a sustainable product—Dr. Geyer says that as of 2017 the world recycled only about 9 percent of all plastic. 

And “even if you’re good about using your recycling bin, your plastic may never actually get recycled,” says Mr. Pogue. On a visit to a plastic recycling facility in New Jersey, he says, “For 30 years, we’ve had an easy solution for disposing of that dirty plastic: Send it to China.” 

Samil Bagaria, cofounder of GDB International, the company that owns the facility, says: “China was buying 50 percent of all graded plastic scrap in the world. Now that continued for, say, 20, 30 years.  And then there was I think a movie made by somebody, ‘Plastic China.’” 

The 2017 documentary “illustrated the brutal truth about the contaminated plastic that developed nations were selling to China,” says Mr. Pogue. “It showed a desperately poor Chinese family eking out a living by hand-sorting these mountains of plastic trash.” Out of “national pride,” China decided “we don’t want to be the world’s dumping grounds,” he notes.  “So the Chinese government announced a new policy. Starting on January 1 of this year, China stopped accepting other countries’ plastic unless it is impossibly pure.”

Clay Warner, recycling manager at Garten Services in Salem, Oregon, says that now “we…have large volumes of the types of plastic that nobody will buy, sitting, waiting for somebody to buy them. And then you have to decide how long you’re gonna hold on to it before you end up throwing it away.” 

Mr. Warner comments that, “I do think, in my own opinion, that we do need to ban certain plastics and packaging.” Mr. Bagaria says: “We cannot imagine life without plastics. But we cannot continue to lead our life the way we are.  It’s not like, ‘Oh, let’s use this planet Earth, then we will move to another planet.’ No, this is what we have. We need to take care of this.” 

Yes, this earth is where we live. And, as Pope Francis said, we must fight the “emergency” of pollution by plastic and save the “marvelous…great waters” and life in them.

Suffolk County has taken actions. It has restricted the distribution of single-use plastic bags—and we’ve learned to live with that. It’s begun a voluntary program to get restaurants to switch to non-plastic straws. I was given a paper straw for a drink last week and it worked fine. Early-on, Suffolk banned the mass release of helium-filled plastic balloons. But that’s been only a start in which New York State, the nation and world must join together.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

Thursday
Sep132018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - "Let's Not Hit The Snooze Button"

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

“The press keeps reporting that Florida’s red tide is a ‘naturally occurring phenomenon.’ This is wrong,” declared Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, on Facebook. “The hundred miles of dangerous red tide is caused by too much nitrogen!”

“Take heed Long Island. This is a wake-up call,” said Ms. Esposito, whose environmental organization is based in Farmingdale. “Let’s not hit the snooze button.”

What are the connections between the algal blooms that have been striking Long Island and those that are devastating much of Florida’s waters?

 “The issues are similar in that they are all harmful algal blooms that harm marine life,” says Dr. Christopher J. Gobler, chair of coastal ecology and conservation at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “What we have now [in Long Island waters] is NOT toxic to humans, whereas the Florida one is,” he responds via email to our inquiry. “However, the one we get in spring—referring to the Alexandrium algae that produces lethal saxitoxin—“is toxic to humans, as are the blue-green algae blooms in lakes and ponds.”

Thus, there’s a link in terms of the algal blooms in both areas harming marine life and blooms in Florida and also some of the blooms here being deadly to humans.

“Our blooms are very strongly linked to nitrogen loading from land and occur in inland waters, estuaries,” Dr. Gobler continues. Many of the “Florida events” began “more innocently in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico” to then be “transported to near-shore regions where nutrients make them more intense.”

Kevin McAllister, founding president of Sag Harbor-based Defend H20 and a native of Center Moriches who for 15 years worked as a marine scientist in Florida, focuses on the Kissimmee River that “flows south to Lake Okeechobee. The lake, a shallow waterbody, would spill over to the south serving as the freshwater head to the Everglades.” But “historically it was a meandering river straddled by thousands of acres of freshwater marsh—natural biofilters of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediments and other pollutants.”  

“In the late 1960’s the Army Corps of Engineers canalized the Kissimmee for flood control” allowing for more agricultural uses. “In addition, Lake O. was diked to control water flow to the south. What the canalization did was negate the benefits of marsh filtration…Pollutants from agricultural activities were discharged directly to Lake O. When water levels in Lake O. are high, the canal gates are opened to dump water into the Indian River Lagoon and the Gulf.”

“The activities of Big Sugar”—sugar agriculture—produce water “laden with nutrients and other pollutants. Because South Florida, with its network of canals, dikes and water control structures has transformed into a geographical plumbing works to accommodate suburban sprawl and agricultural interests, the ramifications to water quality are profound.”

The “current situation” in Florida was “set in motion” by Lake Okeechobee “bursting at the seams” during an “extremely wet June. An enormous volume of nutrient-laden lake water was dumped to the coast.”

As to the connection to Long Island, “While excessive nitrogen directed to marine waters may be the fuel, the sources and means of conveyance are different. What I have come to believe seeing the explosion of harmful algal blooms locally and up and down the East Coast within the past 10 years is that climate change is a greater factor. It’s too coincidental for virtually every pond and embayment on Long Island to experience algal blooms within the same time period. The development scenarios surrounding waterbodies are not the same, yet the algal blooms are now omnipresent everywhere,” says Mr. McAllister. 

It’s somewhat complex. But there are strong parallels: nutrients—especially nitrogen—the key to the situations in Florida and here. Climate change—the heating of waterways—creates a soup in which algal blooms explode.

Another parallel: both areas are tourist meccas. Hotel bookings in parts of the Sunshine State are down precipitously. There’s been a substantial economic impact. Who would want to vacation at a hotel or a Florida home amidst the slime. 

Meanwhile, Newsday has just reported that “tourists spent $5.9 billion on Long Island in 2017, up 4 percent over 2016,” and there was this quote: “’Tourism on Long Island has been on an upward trajectory for the past several years,’ said Kristen Jarnagin, CEO of Discover Long Island.” How long will that influx annually of billions of dollars—important to the Long Island economy—last if the algal blooms that have struck our waters continue and increase? 

Needed in Florida and here is action—informed, wise and strong—to deal with situations that threaten the marine environments and economies of both places.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.