What Sandy Can Teach Us About Adapting to a Changing Climate

Nov 5, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

We’re still counting the casualties and costs, but one thing is sure: after a second “hundred year” event in the last two years in New England (last year’s Hurricane Irene and this week’s Sandy), we need to pay some sober attention to building our region’s capacity to roll with the climate punches.

“Adaptation,” “adaptability,” “resilience,” “adaptive capacity,” and “vulnerability” are all part of the emerging vocabulary that seeks to describe a basic and simple question: what prudent steps should we be taking to ensure that we can lower the risks and minimize the effects of severe events linked to climate change even as we strive to lessen greenhouse gases? In the wake of this week’s destruction, it’s worth considering how best to engage our communities in the kind of thoughtful planning and action that can prevent or offset the worst effects of events like Irene and Sandy, and then enable us to bounce back.

As noted by my colleague Tricia K .Jedele in Rhode Island on this blog, many coastal communities like Matunuck sustained significant damage to their beaches, seawalls, and jetties. The storm surge temporarily returned Manhattan to being a real island, cut off from the mainland, and stranding millions without power and transportation. The economic cost of replacing damaged public infrastructure and people’s homes will certainly be in the billions of taxpayer, insurance, and private dollars, not to mention the economic damage done when a region is brought to a standstill.

Anticipating and planning for potential problems associated with climate change makes a difference. New York City, for example, has been working for several years already to implement a climate adaptation plan that will make its transportation system less vulnerable to precisely the kind of effects that Sandy brought about this week. Similarly, Groton, CT has engaged in a local effort to calculate how best to use its resources to minimize the local economic impact of sea-level rise and storm surge.

Protecting New England’s fresh and ocean waters has been a CLF program priority since the organization’s beginnings. Hurricane Sandy has caused wide-spread runoff of farmland and urban pollutants into our streams, as well as sewer overflows from inadequate and damaged urban treatment plants and systems. In some places, like Wells, Maine, local decision makers are including climate considerations into the kind of choices all towns face, in this case the replacement of an aging sewage treatment facility that will not function adequately as sea levels rise.

Deciding how repair, rebuilding and replacement take place can either repeat the mistakes that brought us here, like allowing houses to be rebuilt in shoreline flood zones, or make significant progress toward lessening the effects of future storms. For example, the coastal towns of New Hampshire, and five municipalities in southern Maine, are each working together to establish common regulatory standards that will protect lives and property as the shoreline reacts to climate change. Hurricane Irene’s destruction of stream and river banks in Vermont in 2001 resulted in wide-spread damage, but as we noted recently, also demonstrated the importance of preserving and enhancing wetlands as a way to mitigate some of those effects.

George Santayana’s dictum, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” together with Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” should lead us to consider what we can learn from these events, and then act with our elected leaders and communities to build resilience that can prevent or mitigate the effects of a changing climate on New England.

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?

Really Cool Event About “Doing the Math” and Taking on the Fossil Fuel Forces of Doom

Oct 23, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

There comes a time when you just have to say that enough is enough.

That is where we are in the world of climate advocacy.

As Bill McKibben laid out in his essay on Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math we can no longer ignore the deep and fundamental need for action to save our climate, our families, our communities and our environment from catastrophe – and that there are powerful, entrenched and well-financed forces who will do just about anything to thwart our efforts.

The primary tools that CLF employs in the fight for climate protection are law, science and economics.  We fight for a thriving New England in court and work with smart business people to build markets for renewable energy like wind farms and to foster energy efficiency, the clean resource all around us.  And we are fighting to ensure that the governments of the region live up to their pledges to create great places where there is more walking and less driving and more of the remaining cars pollute less. We know that this work is essential if we are going to win the war to save our climate.

Courtesy 350.org

But sometimes we need to do more. One thing we need to do, in addition to our calm and civil lawyerly work, is to get angry and push back in the right ways at the right times and in the right places.  This is the spirit behind the Cape Wind Now! campaign that CLF and its partners have launched to call out the fossil fuel powered interests fighting against renewable energy. It is also the driving force behind the Do The Math tour and campaign led by 350.0rg.

And now it is coming to a concert hall near you. This event is a unique blend of “multimedia lecture . . . organizing rally [and] live musical performance” that is not to be missed. CLF has helped to arrange for this important effort to land at the historic Orpheum Theater in Boston on November 15 – tickets are still available!

Before coming the Boston the tour stops in Portland Maine on November 13 and then off on a cross-country odyssey from New York to Los Angeles, to Seattle and then Colorado and many stops in between and on the way.

This Week on TalkingFish.org – July 21-27

Jul 27, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

July 24 – Local Summer Fisheries – Lobster – In this latest edition of Local Summer Fisheries, read about the biology, management, and regulation of the American lobster in New England, learn about the current lobster price plummet in Maine, and find the simplest, most delicious lobster salad recipe around.

July 25 – Summer and Fall Seafood Festivals – Interested in eating local seafood and learning more about the fishermen who bring it to us?  Check out one of the many summer and fall seafood festivals taking place in New England. These festivals highlight all kinds of regional seafood

July 27 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, July 27 – This week’s round-up of fish news includes a lot about lobsters, Hannaford’s Supermarket’s new comprehensive sustainable seafood policy, an update on the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Out of the Blue program, efforts to rebuild Boston Harbor’s clam population, and opportunities to learn to fish in New Hampshire.

This Week on TalkingFish.org – July 14-20

Jul 20, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

July 17 – Local Summer Fisheries – Summer Flounder – Summer flounder, also known as fluke, can be found in New England’s shallow coastal waters in the summer months, when they migrate inshore from their deeper, offshore winter habitats. They have historically composed one of the most popular and important commercial and recreational fisheries on the east coast.

July 18 – A Tale of Two Cod – The almighty cod – the most legendary fish in our New England waters. Atlantic cod is greyish-green, and a renowned dweller of the Gulf of Maine. It is a staple of our traditional cuisine and a historic driver of our economy. You’ve seen an Atlantic cod, right? But have you ever seen a red Atlantic cod?

July 20 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, July 20 – This week’s fish news includes: More news about the Maine lobster surplus; congressional delegates from New England states urge the House Committee on Natural Resources to use caution in determining 2013 groundfish quotas; innovative technology decreases environmental impact of sea scallop surveys; underutilized species may be key to sustainable seafood; Stellwagen Bank celebrates its 20th anniversary as a national marine sanctuary, New England Ocean Odyssey posts about red cod; marine mammal protection may play a role in perpetually low groundfish populations; controversy over the latest Georges Bank yellowtail flounder stock assessment; and a showing of the documentary Ocean Frontiers in Nahant, MA.

Energy Efficiency: A Regional Legacy of Transformation

Jul 12, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Department of Energy @ flickr.com

In the past 25 years, our lives have become increasingly “plugged in.” We have an ever-increasing number of devices in our lives, our homes, and our offices that use electricity. What is amazing is that with our foresight and work during this same time period, our region now uses energy efficiently more than ever – reducing pollution, saving money, growing jobs, and cutting through partisan politics to succeed.

That’s a regional legacy to be proud of and one highlighted in the recent op-ed co-authored by former CLF President Douglas Foy. 

With the publication of “Power to Spare”  in 1987, CLF and others set forth the effective “out of the box” thinking that allows for reduced energy consumption while increasing economic growth. As the op-ed recounts:

“Our proposition was unique: To shift incentives that encouraged utilities to sell more power, to a new model that would reward them for promoting conservation. By putting efficiency on a level playing field with coal, gas, oil and nuclear, we would be able to lower demand, cut consumption, decrease total use and reduce pollution. We promised to boost the local economy at the same time through the job intensive investments in efficiency and by reaping the economic benefits of lower energy costs.”

And it’s been a success that continues.

Massachusetts passed the “Green Communities Act” and has grown energy efficiency jobs and lowered electric costs, with average rates for residential consumers dropping from the 4th highest to 11th highest place.

Rhode Island recently approved an aggressive efficiency budget and is expected to meet more than 100% of its anticipated load growth with energy efficiency, not through additional polluting electricity generation.

In New Hampshire, CLF Ventures recently managed a statewide project helping communities throughout the state identify ways to reduce energy consumption and costs through greater efficiency.

Vermont has its own efficiency utility that works statewide providing one-stop-shopping for businesses and residents to reduce costs and energy use with a budget designed to achieve over 2% annual savings.

Maine now has an independent energy efficiency authority which, in 2011, obtained state-wide energy savings equivalent to the output of a 110MW power plant by obtaining $3 of savings for every $1 invested by the program.

The transformation begun 25 years ago – that we are all a part of – continues. It provides a model for the country, and a model for further action to tackle climate change.

Coal Free Massachusetts Coalition Launches Campaign to Phase Out Coal

Jul 11, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Today marks the launch of the Coal Free Massachusetts Coalition Campaign to Phase Out Coal, Protect Public Health, and Transition to 21st Century Clean Energy. Across the state, in communities where the remaining coal plants operate, local residents and supporters have joined to call for the end of coal. The campaign issued the following statement:

It’s time to end reliance on coal-fired power plants in Massachusetts according to a new state-wide coalition of environmental, public health, faith and community groups, and elected officials. Citizens gathered in coordinated events across the state in Somerset, Holyoke, and Salem to announce a new Massachusetts campaign to protect public health and communities, renew efforts to make the transition to energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources, and revitalize local economies to create more jobs.

Coal Free Massachusetts announced the following platform:

  • Phase out all of Massachusetts’ coal-fired power plants by 2020;
  • Advance energy efficiency and clean renewable energy like responsibly sited wind and solar to
    support the transition from coal electricity generation in Massachusetts
  • Partner with and empower community leadership and vision for clean energy and clean-tech
    development for our host communities, including:
  • Robust transition plans focused on the long-term health of the community
  • Innovative opportunities for growing the green economy
  • Support for workers and municipal revenues

Coal burning is highly polluting and devastating from a public health perspective. The coal burning plants in Massachusetts – Salem Harbor Station, Mount Tom (Holyoke), and Brayton Point Station (Somerset) – are the largest air polluters in the Commonwealth. In 2011, coal only provided 8% of the total energy in New England but still emitted more than 8 million tons of CO2 in Massachusetts alone. One in 10 New Englanders suffer from asthma and MA ranks 20th in mortality linked to coal plants. A 2010 Clean Air Task Force report showed that pollution from coal-fired power plants causes 251 deaths, 211 hospital admissions, and 471 heart attacks in Massachusetts every year. Nationwide more than 112 coal plants have announced retirement under pressure from local communities and efforts to protect public health. MA spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually – $252 million in 2008 alone – importing coal from other states and countries, including some places that are hostile to the US.

CLF has long worked to clean up dirty, polluting power plants, and is proud to be part of this continued effort to move Massachusetts away from reliance on coal and towards clean energy resources such as efficiency, conservation and renewable generation.  Click on the links to find out more about what CLF and the Coal Free Massachusetts coalition are doing and how you can join!

More Tarzan, Less Tar Sands

Jun 20, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Moving to a clean energy future means keeping the dirty stuff out. If you are cleaning house in a dust storm, the first thing you do is close the door. 

photo courtesy of Zak Griefen

Environmental groups gathered to show the need to close the door in New England on tar sands oil – the dirtiest of dirty oil. We are moving in the wrong direction to bring oil in and through New England that increases global warming pollution even more.  

Tar sands are a carbon bomb that will catapult us past several dangerous climate tipping points. It has no part in our region’s clean energy future.

A new report, Going in Reverse: The Tar Sands Threat to Central Canada and New England, outlines an array of threats associated with tar sands.

In late May, a pipeline company announced it would reverse the flow of a 62-year-old pipeline bringing oil from southern Ontario to Montreal. Reversing the pipeline opend the door to another pipeline reversal enabling tar sands to flow through Vermont, and New Hampshire to Portland, Maine. The tar sands industry has been in a desperate search for a port of export since the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway projects have become mired in controversy. CLF and others expressed concern that these proposals are being advanced by the same pipeline company responsible for the largest tar sands spill in U.S. history resulting the devastation of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. 

As the placard of one young CLF supporter noted, we need “More Tarzan, Less Tar Sand.” The help of a super-hero would be nice. In the meantime, let’s just shut the door.

Associated Press story:  Alarm Raised About Potential Tar Sands Pipeline

 

Some Powerful Words and Thoughts About Global Warming

Jun 15, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

These are dark days on the climate front.  Daily, we get new news about the impacts of global warming like a megabloom of tiny plants under Arctic sea ice, the first news of observations of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere passing the 400 parts per million mark, blowing past the “safe” level of 350 and taking greenhouse gases to levels not seen in 800,000 years.

And the policy front – where solutions are crafted and implemented – is a painful vacuum, especially at the level of the U.S. Federal government.

But there are glimmers of hope in the form of folks who tell the truth and frame a path forward.  One of them is U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who gave a powerful speech on the Senate floor yesterday about the urgent need for action.  The other is author, activist and movement leader Bill McKibben, who was interviewed on stage last night during a live taping of the OnPoint radio show.

. . . and we need all the hope we can get.

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