A striking image of Montauk in the year 2100 made the online rounds this week. Produced by Scott Bluedorn, an artist and thinker, it showed the easternmost portion of the South Fork as it might appear after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s worst-case projections for climate change-driven sea level rise. The image is stark and drew a lot of attention.
It has long been known that Montauk will eventually become an island of its own, cut off from the rest of East Hampton as low-lying Amagansett from Beach Hampton to Hither Hills is covered by water. But by looking closely at six feet of sea level rise on the NOAA flood map Mr. Bluedorn noticed something more: Montauk itself could be divided into two parts with another for the Hither Hills highlands.
Taking some artistic license in making a provocative image from the sterile NOAA data, Mr. Bluedorn called one part West Montauk Island, where a new commercial center is on elevated ground near where the hamlet’s Fire Department has a second fire station. The lake becomes the Montauk Chanel in Mr. Bluedorn’s version; on East Montauk Island,
Oyster Pond is now Oyster Bay. Generously, he allows the lighthouse to remain, which is not entirely a sure thing despite a $28 million planned Army Corps of Engineers project to shore up the bluff on which it sits.
Mr. Bluedorn’s inspired vision is not all that far-fetched. A study commissioned by the Town of East Hampton has already determined that an elevated causeway would have to be built at the entrance to downtown Montauk to replace a low-lying portion of Route 27. The report also presents a preliminary plan for relocating much of the commercial center away from the sea and from a new open waterway that could connect Fort Pond Bay to the ocean by subsuming Fort Pond itself.
The science of climate change has been settled since the 1970s. And, as recounted in a detailed New York Times Magazine piece this week, as the 1980s progressed, world leaders came agonizingly close to a global treaty limiting carbon dioxide emissions, but failed to reach binding agreement. Locally, elected officials are beginning to rethink coastal policy in the face of almost impossible decisions about what will be allowed to remain and what will go away as the water encroaches. A report presented in June to the East Hampton Town Board called climate change, sea level rise, and increased storm activity the greatest threats to East Hampton and its residents, upending the economy, property, and the drinking water supply.
Gallup says that 70 percent of people ages 18 to 34 are very worried about global warming, but almost the same portion of Republicans think the claims are exaggerated. Given this political reality, the prospects of action at a national level any time soon are dim. That leaves communities like ours on their own in dealing with the consequences. Work like Mr. Bluedorn’s helps us imagine the unimaginable. It is important to take notice and demand answers from those we elect — in the villages and Albany and the nation’s capital.