A must do list for climate change in Greater Boston

Climate Change News
Published on Mar 10, 2018
A must-do list for climate change in Greater Boston
THE THREAT OF climate change feels distant — until it doesn’t.

A pair of powerful storms, one in January and another this month, provided an alarming preview of what’s to come: a woman clutching her child in the floodwaters in Quincy, tens of thousands going without power for days, and the future site of General Electric’s downtown Boston headquarters inundated with water.

State and local officials have done an admirable job analyzing the long-term risks. And in Boston, a couple of pilot projects are in the works: one that will raise a portion of Main Street in Charlestown and another that will create a flood wall that can be rapidly deployed to protect a part of East Boston.

But the recent storms have made it clear that we need more urgency. More resources. And we’ve got to be smart about how we deploy them. Below, some guiding principles — and some specific recommendations — for a region coming face-to-face with its epochal challenge.

Think big. Much of the climate change planning in the region anticipates sea level rise of up to three feet by the end of the century. And that could be handled without offending community sensibilities or riling up property owners too much, says Paul Kirshen, professor of climate adaptation at the University of Massachusetts Boston: Relatively small, unobtrusive barriers and attractive green spaces would be enough to block and soak up the water. But if greenhouse gas emissions remain at current levels, he warns, sea level rise could top 7 feet. That means bigger structures at bigger cost, with more blocked sight lines. It also means giving up on shoreline development in some cases. This is a much more difficult conversation, but an essential one.

Think heat. The dramatic flooding of the last few months has focused public attention on the dangers of rushing water. But experts say our primary challenge may be hotter temperatures. Between 1971 and 2011, the thermometer topped 90 degrees in Boston for about 11 days per year.

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