Doing The Math, Boston style

Nov 16, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The unique combination of lecture, rally, music show and secular revival known as the 350.org Do The Math tour came to Boston last night. As has been documented in coverage of earlier stops in the tour this is a very special event that brings together vibrant music, powerful information and an energizing call to action.

CLF proudly played a role in helping this worthy effort gain access to the historic Orpheum Theater in downtown Boston and raising awareness about the event — the seventh straight sold out show in the tour.

CLF President John Kassel took the stage after a very energizing and customized video from 350 Massachusetts energized the crowd with a rap song that somehow pulled together Rex Tillerson, Barack Obama and the fact that the oil companies have “five times as much in the ground as it is safe to burn” – literally putting Bill McKibben’s powerful words to music.

John fired up the crowd with a call for greater funding for public transit (which met with a roar of approval from a crowd who had largely gotten there on the train), finishing the job of ending coal fired power plants in New England that CLF and allies has well underway and a massive push for new renewable energy projects including getting the Cape Wind project over the finish line. John ended by invoking the powerful history of Boston and the possibility that once again, right here and right now we could be again launching a revolution from this city.

For those who were there last night, and didn’t catch up with any of our clipboard toting staff in the lobby, you can join CLF today by clicking here.

John linked together the core message of Do The Math – that our adversary is the fossil fuel industry who have a business model that is incompatible with the survival of humanity – with the specific story told by the Cape Wind Now! campaign that CLF leads – that leaders of that same fossil fuel industry like Bill Koch are doing all they can to stop the flagship Cape Wind clean energy project.

There were many powerful voices on the stage ranging from students to musicians (most notably the Charles Neville Trio, led by one of the legendary Neville Brothers, the first family of New Orleans) to powerful testimony from the great Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein about her recent visit to the storm ravaged neighborhoods of New York. But the undisputed star of the show was Bill McKibben who told the story of how as a 27 year old writer he had published the End of Nature, twenty-five years ago, innocently believing that he could sway decision makers and change the world simply by writing a book and how he had come to appreciate the need for deep and broad action and activism and mobilization across all sectors of society to push back against the interests of the fossil fuel companies who literally have invested in a course of action that will end life as we know it on this planet.

It was an evening of both hope and heavy messages.  An evening filled with information and observations that could bring you to the brink of despair or to the uplifting realization that you have the opportunity to help millions of people across the world, both present and future, by fighting to head off climate catastrophe.  It is the definition of daunting to realize that you are being asked to help accomplish something very important, but difficult, but the message from the stage at Do The Math was that we all must hear and heed the call to action.

What the Election Means for New England’s, America’s Environmental Agenda

Nov 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

On Tuesday, Americans across New England joined their countrymen in casting their votes. As the results have become clear, one thing has become clear with it: It was a good night for science and for clean energy.

Maine, for instance, elected former wind developer Angus King as its new Senator, who ran with an ad dedicated to the need to address climate change and support sustainable energy. (Watch that ad here.) Meanwhile changes in both houses of Maine’s legislature are likely to dampen Governor LePage’s unpredictable but largely obstructionist posture. The same is true in Massachusetts, which elected Elizabeth Warren, a strong supporter for renewable energy and climate change mitigation. New Hampshire and Vermont also saw the pendulum swung strongly in a way that is likely to advance much needed efforts to protect the health of their environment and communities. Rhode Island seems to be the only state that has kept its status quo. (For full perspectives on each state, click here.)

In the end, New Englanders voted for a strong environmental agenda, and for candidates who shared that support. These local trends also broadly echo national voting trends. Obama, for instance, was strongly supported by Latino voters. A landmark 2012 study showed that 92% of Latino voters believe we have a responsibility to take care of the earth. The pro-environment agenda endorsed by Obama no doubt contributed to his support.

In reelecting Barack Obama, Americans also voted for an administration that has made science-friendly appointments to science positions, that has a high degree of scientific accomplishment, and that has been very supportive of science education and research.  And while the President was disappointingly silent about climate change and clean energy policy during the campaign, his administration’s pro-health and pro-environment actions to reduce toxic air pollution and to improve automobile  fuel economy standards no doubt resonated with voters nationally.

While there were many issues on the ballot, here in New England and across the country, there are also some very simple lessons from this election. The voters said a few things:

Yes, we believe in science.

Yes, we believe climate change is happening.

Yes, we need more sources of sustainable energy.

Yes, we want candidates who move us away from the dirty energy of the past to a more prosperous future.

And no, dirty energy, you cannot buy my vote.

Despite historic spending, the money spent by the dirty energy industry to try to buy this election didn’t seem to have much effect. In the end, clean energy and science were big winners.

New England cemented its reputation on Tuesday as a bastion of progressive environmental politics. Voters across our region want action on climate change, they want to advance clean energy, and they want to strengthen their communities.

It is my sincere hope that the elected officials in each state listen to their voters and make progress on these issues. It is also my sincere belief that we will be stronger as a movement if we work together across our New England: while some of our issues are local and some cry out for national leadership, many are regional in nature and can most effectively be addressed at the regional scale.

And then there’s the pragmatic reality that visionary leadership from Washington is very unlikely at this politically fractious time. But with New England’s leaders – of all political stripes – largely sharing a common vision for an economically, socially and environmentally thriving region, we can and must chart our own course right here. To succeed, we need to work together. When New England works together, we have shown that we can.

MA Sends New Clean Energy/Climate Champs to Capitol Hill While Broadening Investment in Thriving Green Communities at Home

Nov 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

“The choice before us is simple. Will we continue to subsidize the dirty fossil fuels of the past, or will we transition to 21st century clean, renewable energy?” – U.S. Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

 Good question. To us, the choice is crystal clear. There is but one plausible answer if we are to avert the most devastating impacts of climate change. Thankfully, Massachusetts is sending to Capitol Hill two new leaders – Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren and Congressman-elect Joseph Kennedy III – who have declared firm commitments to fight climate change and promote a clean energy future.

They clearly and consistently have pledged to work to end huge giveaways to Big Oil and other dirty fossil fuel interests, and instead to promote investment in energy efficiency, renewables, and home-grown clean energy jobs. They get it that advancing clean energy is essential not only for confronting climate change, but also for promoting jobs and economic development, saving money by reducing energy waste, investing locally rather than sending billions of Massachusetts dollars to unfriendly dirty fuel-producing nations, and reducing health impacts and healthcare costs as we reduce air and water pollution.

CLF is eager to work with Massachusetts’ newly minted Senator-elect Warren and Congressman-elect Kennedy – and the rest of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation – to translate these laudable aspirations into concrete measures.

The election of Congressman Kennedy also heralds a noteworthy new era in a related respect: Kennedy admirably has demonstrated the courage of his convictions in breaking with prominent members of his family – and joining with his predecessor Congressman Barney Frank, Senator-elect Warren, and other members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation – to support the Cape Wind offshore wind energy project. True, Cape Wind has all of its state and federal approvals and is ready to go. But it can’t hurt to have supportive leaders on Capitol Hill who are ready to fend off last-ditch efforts by dirty energy-funded interests seeking to gin up Congressional witch hunts to derail the project.

Also on election day, Massachusetts residents in seven communities – Beverly, Canton, Fall River, Great Barrington, Salem, Somerset, and Somerville – reinforced a strong and growing commitment to invest in thriving communities through the adoption of the Community Preservation Act. These communities joined 148 other Massachusetts cities towns that have voted to raise their property taxes in order to preserve open space and historic structures, build affordable housing, and develop recreational fields. With more than one hundred Massachusetts communities also having joined the Commonwealth’s Green Communities Program since 2008 to invest in local clean energy initiatives, the people of Massachusetts continue to grow their commitments to invest in healthy, livable communities.

So, what’s next?  One of the biggest challenges ahead during the upcoming Massachusetts legislative session will be to solve the issue of our underfunded and overextended transportation systems.  After all, we need to connect all of these thriving communities more reliably, affordably and with environmentally responsible options.

One More Lesson from the Presidential Election: Ignoring Rigorous Number Crunchers Is a Bad Idea

Nov 9, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It is a dangerous thing to ignore very smart people who are using rigorous methods of analyzing data. This is true when discussing elections, it is even more true when it comes to thinking about the earth’s climate.

Consider the case of Nate Silver, whose computer forecasting tools have been making spookily accurate predictions about the outcome of elections over the last five years. Silver’s models, which uses public opinion polls, with adjustments for various effects, over the last year showed a presidential election that was very stable with a consistent reality of the incumbent President maintaining a small but clear lead on the national level and a slightly larger but even more consistent lead in key “swing states.” The bottom line prediction of the model was a moderate (60%) to high (92%) probability that the outcome would be the re-election of Barack Obama. He was, of course, impressively accurate.

And yet, leading up the election, Silver’s work was reviled by many – principally those who saw this quantitative approach as undermining their business of dispensing qualitative analysis of elections and, even more vehemently, by those simply could not accept the results of the modeling because they just couldn’t accept the re-election of the President as a potential likely outcome. This phenomenon of folks in denial projecting their own warping of science and analysis on to analysts and scientists who they disagree with is very familiar in the climate context.

For a very long time those who find the truth of global warming to be inconvenient have claimed, amongst other things, that climate science is skewed and political, accusing scientists of suffering from confirmation bias and leaning towards evidence and models that confirmed their political beliefs. Dark, and totally unsubstantiated, accusations are made about how it is “convenient” that the scientist are reaching conclusions that line up with expectations of agencies providing funding. But, of course, these same climate change deniers are the greatest case study of confirmation bias that one could ever find.

So who is the climate equivalent of Nate Silver? Who is a clearly disinterested and objective outside observer coming in from a different world, like Nate Silver came to politics from sports forecasting, and employing sophisticated analytical tools imported from another context?

I would suggest the prudent accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are making a very strong audition for that role given their Carbon Disclosure Project and very specifically with the issuance just last week of a sobering analysis: PwC Low Carbon Economy Index 2012: Too late for two degrees?

That analysis makes it very clear that drastic action, both in terms of emissions reduction and in reshaping our infrastructure and society, is needed if we are going to avert total disaster. As a partner at PwC said in a press release about the report, “This isn’t about shock tactics, it’s simple maths. We’re heading into uncharted territory for the scale of transformation and technical innovations required. Whatever the scenario, or the response, business as usual is not an option.” Indeed, the levels of global warming pollution that PwC tells us will flow from “business as usual” matches up with the levels that scientists tell us will make the land on which half of humanity resides uninhabitable.

PwC is not alone in delivering this message of cold, sober quantitative analysis delivering hard (and frankly terrifying) conclusions about our climate trajectory.  Lord Nicholas Stern has delivered a similar and powerful message, most famously as an adviser to the British Government. In that role, in 2006, he authored a very influential report starkly demonstrating that the cost of failing to address global warming far outstrips the cost of acting to reducing the emissions that are the source of so much of the problem.

The good news (and it yes, I am following apocalyptic statements with good news) is that here in New England the message of these number crunchers is being heard, and bits of action, designed to respond to this threat, are being seen.  The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act provides a binding legal mandate that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts address the causes and effects of global warming pollution.  And, the changes in the complexion of state legislatures across the region (detailed on this blog by the CLF state office directors) suggest that we may be able to make more progress on this front across New England. Finally, the rise of clean energy champions in our congressional delegation (notably the election of former wind energy developer Angus King as a Senator from Maine) means that our representatives will continue to rise up as voices of sanity on energy and climate on the national stage – and sanity is what is needed if we are going to heed the message our number crunchers are sending us.

Vermonters Vote For More Livable, Sustainable Communities

Nov 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Like many other states across the nation, and similar experiences in other New England states, Vermont had its first trial by fire with the expanded influence of “Super PACs.” In fact, one super PAC, Vermonters First, poured more than $1 million into several Vermont political races and issues. The right-leaning PAC was almost entirely funded by one person described by VT Digger as “a wealthy and somewhat reclusive Burlington woman named Lenore Broughton, who in just a few months has made herself the most influential Republican in the state.”

Vermonters First promoted a limited government message in several statewide races including the hotly contested races for state treasurer and auditor. In the race for treasurer, Vermonters First poured over $100,000 into television and radio commercials attacking Democratic incumbent Beth Pearce. Similarly, the Super PAC promoted the candidacy of Republican Vince Illuzi in the auditor’s race. Lastly, Vermonters First weighed in heavily in opposition to Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger’s effort to pass a “Fiscal Stability Bond” to stabilize the city’s finances including restoring the city’s ability to proceed with long-delayed, major water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades.

In the end, this unprecedented influx of seemingly limitless cash didn’t carry the day. (According to The Washington Post, this is true not just in VT, but across the US.) Beth Pearce was reelected to the Treasurer’s post, Vince Illuzi was defeated for Auditor, and the Burlington bond vote was handily passed.

‘‘You can spend a lot of loot. You can buy a lot of those out-of-state ads,’’ said Gov. Peter Shumlin in this AP story, who easily won re-election on Tuesday. ‘‘But in the end, Vermonters judge you by who you are, what you stand for and whether they meet you, whether you knock on their door, whether they look you in the eye and decide whether your character and your vision is the right thing for Vermont.’’

After looking the candidates in the eye, Vermonters confirmed their commitment to a government that plays an important role in making our communities and state livable and sustainable. Vermonters don’t want a flood of money in their politics, they want further preparations against future floods – they want a safe, stable and thriving state.

After breathing a sigh of relief, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) will be pressing our elected leaders to solve the state’s major environmental issues including cleaning up Lake Champlain, protecting our public lands, embracing a sustainable and efficient energy future, and prioritizing livable communities.

We look to our elected leaders to lead on the most pressing environmental issues of our day. Silence, like that adopted at the national level during the campaign, will not be acceptable. We cannot afford further delay on issues like climate change. Now, more than ever, is the time to lead.

Averting the Climate Disaster Will Require Science and Courage, Not Politics

Nov 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

On September 26, 2012 I posted a blog called Thune For Thought, in which I wrote:

“At 2 a.m. on September 22, 2012, the United States Senate voted by unanimous consent that   U.S. airlines could choose to ignore the European Union’s requirement that all airplanes landing in the EU reduce their carbon pollution that is causing global warming. Either climate change is happening or it isn’t. But, once you look at the data, once you subscribe to the opinion that it is happening, you have an affirmative obligation to take all reasonable steps to responsibly address the problem. I understand that this is election season, and some of the Senate races are tight, and airlines can be powerful lobbyists, but, it is 2012 and an anti-climate emissions control bill is passing via unanimous consent in the United States Senate? Either climate change is really happening or it isn’t.”

Our climate champions across the nation abandoned their science-based advocacy about the reality of climate change and the extreme price tag that comes with our collective failure to act. They abandoned that advocacy immediately prior to the election, and disappointingly, during the election. They abandoned that advocacy even in the aftermath of the one-two punch of Super Storm Sandy and Nor’easter Athena.

Not a single elected official in Rhode Island, from the Governor to the delegation, has uttered the words climate change in any of these contexts.

After the November 6, 2012 election, nothing much has changed in Rhode Island or for the country in terms of political representation. Our delegation in Rhode Island remained the same: Reed, Whitehouse, Langevin, and Cicciline; our Governor remained the same: Chafee; our President: the same; and, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives remained the same: blue majority in the Senate, red majority in the House.

The take home message is simple: Averting the climate disaster can’t be about party politics. We all lose if that is where the battle lines are drawn on the single most important issue facing our country. Averting the climate disaster requires science and the courage to act on it.

Dear President Obama, start acting on climate change.
Dear Senator Reed, start acting on climate change.
Dear Senator Whitehouse, start acting on climate change.
Dear Representative Langevin, start acting on climate change.
Dear Representative Cicciline, start acting on climate change.
Dear Governor Chafee, start acting on climate change.
Dear Rhode Island House and Senate Leaders, start acting on climate change.

We need science and courage, not politics.

Superstorm Sandy Leaves a Lot of Questions

Nov 2, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

President Barack Obama hugs Donna Vanzant, the owner of North Point Marina, as he tours damage from Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, N.J., Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The full impact of this hurricane is still becoming known. The storm has taken at least 94 lives, including those of two small boys who were recovered after several days of searching. As a father of two young children this sent a shock wave through my psyche. I feel very fortunate that my extended family and friends along the Atlantic seaboard suffered no more than a power outage and a few lost roof shingles.

As if the floods of early 2010 and Hurricane Irene weren’t enough, the latest photos and news accounts from New Jersey and the New York City area create a smashing realization that the really massive hurricane disasters, the Katrina-like disasters which take years to recover from, aren’t just relegated to the Gulf coast and the Deep South. New England, New Jersey and the other Mid-Atlantic States, and even inland towards the Great Lake states, are all going to have to create new contingency plans for hurricane season.

The immense size and increasing ferocity of the storm’s descent on New England could be both felt and measured. On Monday afternoon a little before 1:00pm the wave height at Cashes Ledge, as indicated by its resident weather buoy 80 miles off the coast of Portland, registered 15.1 feet. About one hour later the wave height was up past 23 feet. This was about the time the trees outside my office in Washington DC started to shed small branches and the same time I’m on the phone with colleagues in Boston over 400 miles away and we are all experiencing the same storm. Do the effects of climate change create a storm such as Sandy or only increase its size and strength? Is that even a pertinent question anymore?

After a decade and a half of the issue of climate change slipping further off the edge of the political and public debate, we see media outlets this week claiming its resurgence. Bloomberg Businessweek gets the full story. The Washington Post has two columnists noting that the climate change issue is back. And, is if timed to make a couple of points, Mayor Bloomberg himself made climate change the centerpiece of his endorsement of the President. Will Sandy really help shift the dialogue, or will the climate deniers and polluters just double down?

Our reaction in the wake of the Superstorm can provide a clear indication of the future and how quickly we can embrace a more realistic, mature approach to crisis management and recovery. Can we start with an honest assessment and some better planning? Or are we going to be stuck – still – in the blatantly self-serving political posturing that avoids real measures to address climate change and its exceptionally well-predicted impacts? There are number of us in New England who both love the ocean and love to use it, and believe that better scientific information and a better process to site new and replaced infrastructure is a great direction to go. We need to develop clean energy sources. We need a healthier ocean and protected habitat. We need existing and new coastal businesses and ocean industries.  The National Ocean Policy is now ready for full implementation. Is there better time to start?

Change is Hard, Necessary: Rethinking Our Electricity System Post-Sandy

Nov 1, 2012 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Change is hard.

And the larger, more important and more entrenched the thing being changed, the harder it is.

There are few things that are larger and more important than our electricity system. Just ask a parent of a child who was in the intensive care unit of a New York City hospital when Hurricane Sandy wiped away the electric grid and the emergency generators failed. In some moments, like that, electricity is quite literally a life-saver.

In 1882, the world’s first practical coal fired electric power plant came online in New York. For the last fifty years coal has been the dominant fuel and backbone of our electric generation system, spawning a  massive industrial process of extracting coal from the earth, transporting it to power plants, burning it to make heat, transforming it into electricity, and finally disposing of the plants’ waste products into the air, land and water.

Given coal’s longstanding role in maintaining a stable electricity system in this country, it is not shocking that some reasonable folks find it hard to contemplate life without it – despite the evidence of the harm it causes both to human health and the environment.

But ending our dependence on the most harmful fuels to generate electricity is part of the change we need to make if we are going to avert full-on climate disaster. The hard truth is that past emissions of greenhouse gas pollution from coal plants and other dirty fuel sources have already transformed our world, warming our oceans and increasing the water vapor in our atmosphere. As a result, the weather dice are now loaded in favor of catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy, among many other effects.

Propping up and retaining our obsolete and inefficient old coal plants so they can continue to spew global warming greenhouse gases into the air is not an option – and thankfully, the economic tide in this country is starting to turn against them. But after decades of depending on coal for electricity, many wonder how we are going to keep the lights on without it. The answer, to borrow a phrase, is: “Use less electricity, mostly renewable.”

The first step is very clear: we must be much smarter and careful about how we use electricity. This means going all out in our deployment of  energy efficiency that slashes energy use at all times, and also reducing electricity demand at the moments of greatest need when the system is pressed hardest. We are evolving towards a world where highly flexible demand will simply be a routine part of our energy system – our dishwashers, cell phone chargers and air conditioners will ramp up or down their energy use based on price signals and energy system conditions.

Second, we need to redouble our commitment to develop zero emissions renewable electricity generation like wind and solar. Every watt of energy we get from those sources displaces the need for energy that comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Eventually, we will be able to store enough of that clean power to meet demand even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. But, until that technology matures, we will still require some “firming” power to fill in the gaps.

Here in the Northeast, that power is likely to come from sources like hydroelectric dams, or natural gas fired power plants, which are cleaner and cheaper than coal, but  come with their own environmental price tags. The specter of over-dependence on natural gas is the cause of much consternation in environmental and energy expert circles. And for good reason: locking ourselves into dependence on a finite imported fossil fuel would be a mistake. Instead, we need to carefully manage our transition to a new and cleaner power system, ensuring that we maintain a sufficiently diverse portfolio of resources and keep the lights on as we move surely and steadily away from fossil fuels.

The transition from dependence on coal to natural gas in our electricity system is crudely analogous to a heroin addict moving to methadone. It is a step in the right direction and movement away from a dangerous addiction, but it is still only a partial step toward toward the full recovery we need: elimination of greenhouse gas pollution from our electric system.

Fundamental change is indeed hard, but the roaring winds of Katrina, Irene and Sandy loudly remind us that we have an absolute obligation to step up and manage the transition to a better, safer and cleaner energy future.

Sandy in New England: We Can and Must Change The Pattern of Loss

Nov 1, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

At times like these, when tragedy falls indiscriminately among us, it’s wonderful to realize that the sense of community and generosity are rongly in evidence in New England. Credit: Block Island Times.

Each of us personally experienced in some way Superstorm Sandy slamming into our communities all along the East Coast. For many of us, the destruction has been widespread and severe and will be long-lasting. In New England, our neighbors in Rhode Island and Connecticut have been dealt a particularly devastating blow.

It has been encouraging to see communities coming together to help those in need, neighbors helping neighbors. Resources are being devoted efficiently to alleviate human suffering and to mitigate economic and ecological harm. At times like these, when tragedy falls indiscriminately among us, it’s wonderful to realize that the sense of community and generosity, and can-do attitude, that are noble and exhilarating elements of  American society are still robust, and strongly in evidence in New England.

We are also a prudent nation, and New Englanders – conditioned by harsh winters and stony soils – have long been among the most pragmatic of Americans. We watch the weather carefully (remember the Farmer’s Almanac?) and we adapt as necessary. As Robert Frost noted, we mend stone walls, both for the sake of better functioning walls and for stronger communities. We try hard to see things clearly. And we respond with a town meeting-inspired desire to promote the general public good, with as much wisdom as we can muster.

With that perspective in mind, let’s be clear: Our climate has changed, and will change further, in ways that only encourage extreme storm activity. (Insurance companies believe this because they look at the evidence objectively – we should be just as prudent.) Furthermore, we have built more and more infrastructure in increasingly perilous places, and we have less and less money to repair and replace it. It is imperative that we start re-planning our coastal and other vulnerable zones and re-building infrastructure in them for greater resiliency, expecting more extreme weather in the future. Doing otherwise would be reckless.

Over the last four decades, the number of tropical storms that are big enough to be named has tripled. Hurricane Sandy is the 19th such storm this year alone. With a month to go before the end of the so-called hurricane season, a season which itself now starts earlier and ends later than it did four decades ago, it’s possible we will run out of letters of the alphabet before we run out the season.

Higher sea levels, warmer ocean temperatures, and ice melt off Greenland – all were factors that made this storm a “Frankenstorm.” The literary reference is not accidental, either: in significant part we made this storm ourselves, by failing to dramatically reduce climate emissions. (For more on this, see this roundup of CLF stories on climate change and Sandy, on the implications for our economy and insurance, as well as here, here and here for information on hurricanes and climate science.)

While it is true that climate change and increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are not the sole cause of this specific hurricane, they are certainly the root cause. To borrow a line from Dave Roberts at Grist, the direct cause of the pain in my knees after I run on any specific afternoon may not be the fact that I am over 50, but my advancing age certainly has the most to do with that pain. That you cannot rationally deny.

So as we help our neighbors to clean out a flooded basement or garage, as we help to clear away debris or rebuild a wall, we must also think about what we can do to change the conditions that have made these 100-year storms an almost annual event. To simplify the problem, ask yourself:

  • What is it that you can do individually to reduce our collective contribution to the root cause?
  • Can you reduce the amount of energy you use at home?
  • Can you take public transit or car pool to avoid driving alone to work?
  • Can you contact your state representative or senator, your Governor, your Congresswoman or Senator and urge them to take some action to reduce our dependence on expensive and unfriendly fuel sources or develop an actual energy plan for our country?

In addition to all of this, we must to adapt to the changes that clearly are already underway. This is an economic imperative:  there isn’t enough money in our entire economy to keep rebuilding roads, bridges, tunnels, sewage treatment plants, airports, energy systems, buildings and homes where and as they currently exist.

We must improve the resiliency of our coastal zones, for starters. We’ve all seen the images: homes in Rhode Island reclaimed by the sea, seawalls in Massachusetts moved by the waves, and once dry neighborhoods turned into wetlands overnight. That’s only the destruction we can see: imagine what the seabed looks like following all of the sewage overflows, all of the debris from homes and industrial yards, and all of the traps and equipment lost by fishermen, lobstermen and boaters.

Too little attention has been paid to the state of our coastal zones, and how likely they are to ride out major storms – and storm surges – in a way that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.  We’re throwing money at maintaining public infrastructure out of habit, and in some cases we might just as well dump cash into the ocean. And risks to private property – if it’s insured we’re all sharing the costs one way or another. How long can we sustain that?  In the tradition of a New England town meeting – where a community really decides how to spend its resources, for the benefit (and cost) of current and future generations – we need to start a serious conversation about what we’re going to invest in and why.

And let’s recall that a year ago – in the wake of Irene – it was flooding in Vermont, and western Massachusetts and Connecticut that presented these questions. All of the parts of New England that are sensitive to our changing climate need our attention: we need to make decisions now that will reduce costs and enhance the quality of our lives and our environment, for generations to come.

Now is the time. Now, more than ever before, our region needs to plan and act to reduce the impacts of these storms, as well as their frequency. CLF has been working on these issues for decades. Now, we will redouble our efforts. I hope you’ll join us in doing just that.

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