On the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting the east coast, we here at Greenovate began to think of what our team and community should know about climate change. We went to the Environment, Energy, and Open Space Climate Preparedness Fellow, Mia Goldwasser, with some questions about Boston and climate change. Mia’s role is to evaluate Boston’s climate resilience and propose necessary steps to further prepare Boston for climate change.
Is planning for climate change necessary in Boston?
Absolutely. Boston is one of the US cities most vulnerable to climate change-- especially sea level rise. Though sea level rise is slow-moving and long-term and may not be felt as strongly until the end of the century, planning for such a huge and consequential impact for this city needs to start now. And apart from sea level rise, there are other impacts that we are already starting to feel: more intense rain storms and snow events, flooding, and hotter summer days and heat waves that last longer and later into the season. Planning for these climate impacts is important, because they affect us all --and especially vulnerable populations-- and because solutions can improve and strengthen our city no matter what happens in the future.
How can we be more prepared?
The first preparedness measure has to do with reducing our carbon emissions. We can only adapt to a certain amount of climate change, so we need to make sure our carbon emissions are lowered enough so that adapting to future climate impacts remains manageable. Boston is a leader in climate mitigation, and continues to work with public, private, and community partners to reduce our carbon emissions through energy efficiency, clean energy, and distributed generation (among other things). We can also be more prepared by increasing the amount of green space in the city-- through parks and open space and also trees, green roofs, and urban agriculture. Green infrastructure has many benefits, such as reducing carbon emissions, flooding, and the urban heat island effect. Preparedness also has to do with where and how we develop, and ensuring buildings, critical facilities, and infrastructure systems (like the T and power grid) are resilient enough to withstand future impacts. But most importantly are the people of Boston, and how we use climate preparedness as a tool to create healthier, stronger, and safer neighborhoods that don't only "bounce back" after an event, but can "bounce forward".
What should we be aware of?
That climate change is happening now. What changes have you noticed? Hotter summer days? More intense rain and snow storms? Strange weather events? We have to start adapting to the changes already occurring, preparing for bigger impacts in the coming decades, and reducing our carbon emissions to make sure that we can keep doing so. The City is taking action across all these fronts, and there are many ways to get involved. We will be launching "Climate Ready Boston" to assess the city's physical, infrastructure, social, and environmental vulnerabilities to climate change, and develop strategies to increase our resilience. For more information, please reach out!
What will climate change in Boston look like?
In the near term, more frequent and intense heat waves and possibly more intense storms. In the longer term, sea level rise and coastal flooding will become a greater concern. But those are just the risks. There are many opportunities. Climate change in Boston can also look like cleaner air because we reduce dependence on fossil fuels, more green space, trees, gardens, and urban farms, more green jobs to retrofit our buildings and install green infrastructure, and more connected communities with the resources to weather climate change impacts and any others.
Can we mitigate climate change and fix our city?
Climate change is happening and will continue to-- and is not something we will ever be able to fully predict, fight off, or control. We do have power to reduce our carbon emissions and lead cities in taking bold steps in that direction. We also have the ability to understand the impacts coming our way, and take steps to increase our physical, social, environmental, and economic resilience. Though the City can take the lead, we need businesses, community groups, other government agencies, and residents to join us in tackling this huge and important challenge.
What can we do in our communities to combat and prepare climate change?
We can save energy (and lower our utility bills in the process), switch to renewable sources, reduce our waste, and drive less to cut carbon emissions. Greenovate has a lot of resources on how to do that: http://www.greenovateboston.org/energy. To prepare for climate impacts such as extreme weather, a good resource is the City of Boston's "Ready Boston" initiative: http://www.cityofboston.gov/OEM/ReadyBoston/ Here you can find tips on preparing your family and reaching out to your neighbors during an event. You can also give your ideas to the city’s Climate Ready Boston and Imagine Boston 2030 planning processes-- we want to hear from you on how you and your neighborhood experience climate change, and what you see as necessary solutions.