Bay State leaders tackle the problem of climate change

Mar 06, 2013 By Cole Chapman, The MetroWest Daily News

BOSTON — Warning that the Massachusetts coastline could face water levels at least two feet higher within 30 years, a group of leaders in government and science met Tuesday to discuss plans to change building codes, slow greenhouse gases and develop disaster plans for future calamities similar to Super Storm Sandy.

Brian Swett, Boston’s chief of Environment and Energy department, described the city’s plans to implement new regulations on new construction, install solar powered street lights, lay out new emergency routes out of Boston and away from flood zones, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s plan to increase trees by 35 percent, or an estimated 100,000 new trees, by 2020.

The new building regulations would place mechanical, electrical, and emergency infrastructures on the roof and create designs to keep key floors above the anticipated water levels of a “100-year storm” (a storm with a one percent probability of happening each year) in 2085.

Sen. William Brownsberger, D–Belmont, highlighted his legislation to form a committee to study the risk factors of rising sea levels and flood scenarios in 2030, 2050, and 2100.

Paul Kirshen, a University of New Hampshire professor of environmental engineering, told the meeting that the sea level is estimated to rise by about one to two feet by 2050 and 3 to 6 feet by 2100. Kirshen said the sea level in the waters off the Boston metro area has increased by a foot over the last hundred years, six inches of which has been a result of climate change.

He said other factors include a gradual natural sinking of the land.

“Imagine in your mind’s eye any place along the harbor or the beach and think about high tide, then add six feet on to that,” he said. “Just think about what’s going to happen.

Kathleen Baskin, the state’s director of water policy, described the formation of an Implementation Advisory Committee. The committee asked 200 agencies not normally involved with climate change to look at how climate change would affect their areas, including state, municipal, non-profit, and academic agencies along with the tourism industry.

The committee would assess the potential losses caused by flooding.

Climate change describes the shift in temperatures and weather patterns that occur from the process of global warming. Climate change has created national arguments over whether it exists, if humans caused it, and whether governments should do anything about it.

In a 2011 survey, MassINC Polling Group found that out of 1,311 Massachusetts adults, 77 percent believe global warming does exist while 17 percent do not. But only 42 percent believed serious consequences will arise from climate change. Fifty-six percent thought the government should be doing “a lot” to fix the problem.

Despite that figure, 32 percent of residents believe it should be considered a “high” priority problem compared to fixing issues with jobs and taxes.

“Climate change opinion has been relatively stable, but it does fluctuate, especially when there are events like (Superstorm Sandy),” said Benjamin Forman, research director at MassINC and one of study’s authors. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it has changed.”

State officials have taken other steps, including filing legislation and setting deadlines in response to the threats of climate change. Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Green Communities Act in 2008 that pledged to invest in renewable energy to bring an estimated 42,000 jobs by 2020 while cutting greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent of below 1990 levels.

Even with those policies, there is still much to be done according to Warren Leon, professor at Brandeis University and senior adviser for the Clean Energy States Alliance that produced another MassINC study.

“It’s clear that the current administration is taking the climate change problem very seriously,” said Leon. “There’s been some significant progress over the past year, but climate change is a very big challenge with lots of work to be done, so there’s certainly more to do.”
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