The Amazon is burning and glaciers are melting, all at an unprecedented rate. Africa is also ablaze, with 70 percent of the world’s 10,000 fires that happen during a typical summer day. Even parts of Siberia and Alaska are having their first ever recorded forest fires. When you include the Trump administration’s recent aggressive efforts to eradicate rules on methane emissions and weaken auto fuel economy standards, it’s difficult to envision how individual Long Islanders can fight global warming to protect our environment. Despite this bleak prognosis, there are several things we can do to aid the fight against climate change. Here are a few simple suggestions to get you started.
Install Solar Panels
Flat roofs are perfect places for solar panels, and Long Island’s 125 school districts each offer acres of flat rooftops. Solar panel carports could also be installed in public school parking lots. Long Island’s public schools get NYSED aid on capital projects and will receive reimbursement as part of the cost to install solar. For example, Long Beach Public Schools, which are leading the way in this initiative, qualify for 32.4 percent NYSED aid. Long Beach’s solar initiative will provide their school district with a positive revenue stream of close to $120,000 per year for 15 years, all while paying off the bonded cost of the solar panels through the savings from their lower electric bills.
What better way is there to teach Long Island’s 400,000-plus students to protect the planet than with solar panels on their schools’ roofs and carports? Long Island’s public school rooftops and parking lots are an untapped resource, totaling well over one square mile of valuable real estate available to solar energy.
In addition, every landfill on Long Island could be leased out to solar companies, as a way to lower taxes and increase green energy production. The Town of Hempstead is investigating leasing out the Oceanside landfill. There is currently a deal on the table that would pay the town $350,000 a year in rent to generate over 10 MW of solar energy. This would be enough to power close to 2,000 homes.
To advocate for solar, please attend your local school board, village, town, city or county board meetings, and during public comment suggest solar power on your local government’s property. You can also email or write your elected officials. And please consider installing solar panels on your home. I’ve done this, and the payback through savings on electric bills is just seven years.
Long Island’s elected officials should work together to have a tree planting day, with the goal of one new tree for every one of its roughly 2.8 million residents. Arbor Day, first celebrated in 1872, is a holiday when individuals and groups are encouraged to plant trees. The next Arbor Day, Sunday, April 11, is the perfect time for local government to work collectively to begin this initiative. Every school district should also get involved and encourage students to plant a tree in or around their community.
We all know trees capture the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and produce oxygen in return. What most people don’t realize is trees also lower temperatures. Asphalt, especially in populated areas, causes a phenomenon known as the “urban heat island effect.” Parts of cities covered with asphalt, as compared to areas with trees, can have a difference in temperature as high as 15° F. Lower temperatures in wooded areas create less of a need for air conditioning, which would lower the need for polluting energy, so plant a tree.
Invest in Sewers and Modern Septic Systems
There are roughly 500,000 cesspools on Long Island. The nitrogen from cesspools leaches into our aquifers contaminating Long Island’s only source of drinking water. Every time there is moderate rainfall, our beaches close from massive amounts of bacteria emanating from the sewage runoff in our coastal waters. The runoff also causes a brown tide, which asphyxiates marine life, including the fish and shellfish we eat. Outdated cesspools and a dearth of sewers are polluting our groundwater, closing our beaches and destroying our food supply.
To fix the sewage problem, Nassau and Suffolk Counties need to pay now to invest in modern sewers and septic systems or pay much more later to fix the same problem on a much larger scale. We all need to pressure our elected officials to invest in fixing this problem now before it’s too late. The Grumman plume is a prime example of how costly problem-solving becomes when toxic cleanup is pushed into the future.
In summary, Long Island residents can start advocating for change now. By showing up at local board meetings to push for solar and modern sewage treatment facilities, and by planting trees, individual residents can impact the future for all of us. Long Island’s children are watching, counting on us for a solution to protect the environment. I hope we can all step up now, before it’s too late.