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America at the crossroads: What LIers think of our future

A view of New York City from Long

A view of New York City from Long Island City at the end of the day on May 21. Credit: Edward B. Colby

Matthew Elgut prays that future generations will be better off than his — but doesn't think it's likely.

The 45-year-old Shoreham father of two says the threats of climate change and a possible mass extinction of species are a key reason for his worry.

"If we fail to act soon I fear we will fail our children and the world we leave them will be but a shell of what once existed," he said.

Still, Elgut said he's not sure whether he's optimistic or pessimistic about the United States' future.

That mix is reflected in a recently released Pew Research Center survey which found that 56 percent of Americans said they are somewhat or very optimistic about the country in 2050. But Americans were pessimistic about key parts of our future, with majorities predicting "the economy will be weaker, health care will be less affordable" — and 59 percent saying the environment will be worse.

"I don't think that's pessimism but rather realism. The truth is our environment will get worse before it gets better," said Adrienne Esposito, the Farmingdale-based executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

"We are on the verge of transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, advancing promising technologies including battery storage and geothermal, and building strong public support to usher in these changes. It will take a little time but we will get there."

The future of our environment is affecting major decisions today for some Long Islanders. Jessica Morgan, 31, a Sound Beach resident, said climate change is top of mind as she and her partner save for a house.

"It's very real that sea levels are rising. The landscape of Long Island is going to change. Do we invest here for a 30-year mortgage?" Morgan asked.  

The social worker said she tries to practice "active hopefulness," and do everything she can to ensure her future, Long Island's and her community's.

Chris Jones, 65, senior vice president and chief planner of the Regional Plan Association, said what comes through very clearly in the Pew numbers "is just how much more pessimistic we've become as a society. And I think that's particularly striking for a lot of suburban areas, and particularly Long Island, that really developed on this surge of optimism about the future."

"It's largely consistent with previous polling that's been done on Long Island. And there certainly are a lot of trends that explain why some of these attitudes are changing at this point," he said. "We've certainly come through a fairly extensive period where incomes have not grown that much."

"It's interesting that people seem bipolar on this," former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said about the Pew study.

"On the one hand, they have hope, but on the other hand when they look at specific items, it's very depressing. We're really at a crossroads, on the local level and nationally," said Levy, 59, a Republican from Bayport.

"And what we do policy-wise, and culturally, over the next several years will point us either in a direction of maintaining a traditional status as a productive nation, or we go down the path of the European socialistic entitlement type of nation."

For Levy, the vibrant economy he attributes to President Donald Trump's 2017 tax cuts shows "the policies that you adopt make all the difference in the world."

Noret Bazemore, 47, is concerned about isolation and social awkwardness with "online everything taking over every aspect of our lives."

"Kids are not learning on their own how to develop relationships with each other, which means they'll grow into adults that don't know how to develop relationships with each other," said the custom cake designer from Freeport.

She wants her three sons to be as self-sufficient as possible with life skills like doing laundry, chores and cooking. She explained how her 8-year-old and 10-year-old made breakfast the day before.

"They're taking the initiative to do these things. And these are the men that I want them to be. Feeling very capable and empowered, where they know they can take care of things," Bazemore said. "And I'm not finding that within my peer group. A lot of the moms, they do everything for the kid."

Elgut's concerns are big picture and fundamental. He says he worries about "what's becoming of this country, what can be done still to mitigate some of the unfortunate events that have taken place, and how we can get back to what seemed like normal," the registered nurse said. "The lack of interest in a good portion of this country to accept science is just baffling to me."

But, Elgut said, "If we could somehow for the greater good come together as a country, I really do think that we have tremendous tools with technology and perseverance to at least, at the very least, mitigate some of the worst possibilities that may occur" environmentally.

Esposito sees the environment as a bipartisan issue that affects public policy and quality of life.

"I have great faith in the public to be engaged and to fight this battle with us," the Patchogue resident said, adding this: "If you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel, you're doomed to be in perpetual darkness."

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