By Lucy Alexander
This past winter, residents, infrastructure, and businesses in Massachusetts all suffered from harsh storms and record amounts of snow. The economic impact it caused in Massachusetts is estimated to be more than $1 billion. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are only going to make this kind of extreme weather the norm.
Even with proactive climate change mitigation efforts, like the emission reduction goals Massachusetts has committed to in the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, climate change will continue to have an impact on coastal flooding, precipitation levels, heat waves, and other instances of increasingly extreme weather patterns which Massachusetts needs to be prepared for. In the future, New England can expect an increase in precipitation levels of 20-60% during the winter, an increase in the number of extremely hot days during the summer, an increase in the frequency of 100 year flood levels, and a rise in sea levels—which Massachusetts already loses an average of 65 acres to each year. All of these events put a strain on the state’s infrastructure, economy, residents, and businesses.
The effects of climate change do not respect municipal boundaries and district lines, and while local efforts are currently being made to prepare for the impact of climate change, such as Boston’s Climate Action Plan and Cambridge’s Climate Vulnerability Assessment, Massachusetts needs to work cooperatively to reduce its vulnerability to the predicted impacts of a changing climate.
This past Wednesday, March 25, legislators, government officials, professors from the University of Massachusetts, and other industry experts gathered at the Massachusetts State House for an Oversight Hearing Forum for Policymakers discussion on Climate Change Resiliency. They discussed a looming problem for the state: what can Massachusetts do to tackle climate change adaptation to ensure that we decrease our vulnerability to the impacts of a changing climate?
While addressing adaptation issues locally, such as building structures that are more resistant to increased levels of flooding and protecting from coastal erosion, is essential, we need a comprehensive plan for how Massachusetts is going to prepare for and address the impacts of climate change. Addressing issues in the transportation infrastructure challenges that residents faced as a result of this past winter’s record snow falls spans across departments and city lines, and with such challenges only expected to increase in the future, we need to begin preparation efforts now.
“The most expensive option in every event is to do nothing.” – Ellen Douglas
At the Climate Change Resiliency Forum, legislators, as well as Matthew Beaton, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affair, and Austin Blackmon, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space for the City of Boston, confirmed their dedication to decreasing vulnerability to climate change impacts. Senator Marc Pacheco (1st Plymouth and Bristol) spoke at the hearing, and described a bill he has introduced, an Act providing for the establishment of a comprehensive adaptation management plan in response to climate change, otherwise known as CAMP, that addresses climate change adaptation by assessing which areas are the most vulnerable and taking measures to address those vulnerabilities.
Climate change is already happening, and we are feeling its effects. Although implementing effective adaptation measures is going to require significant time and effort, as Ellen Douglas, Associate Professor of Hydrology, School for the Environment, UMASS Boston, explained, “the most expensive option in every event is to do nothing.” Having a plan to address the increase in extreme weather, flooding, heat waves, and storms is an initial step we need to take in order to ensure that our residents, businesses, and communities can continue to thrive in a changing climate.