Coping With Climate Change

Jan 28th, 2014 | By | Category: Advocacy, Development and Climate Change, Disasters and Climate Change, News, Vulnerability

dt.common.streams.StreamServerEven before filing his budget last week, Gov. Deval Patrick made clear that one of his final priorities in his final year is to help prepare Massachusetts for rising seas and increased storms.

It may prove to be central to his legacy. Tuesday night, the governor will offer his state of the state address, in which he can be expected to hint at how he’d like to be remembered.

Budgets and laws are shaped with today’s problems in mind. For that reasons, leaders have trouble looking ahead. But Patrick has no myopia about the climate. He went to the New England Aquarium this month to draw attention to a $50 million plan, mostly paid for with existing resources, to guard against the consequences of our warming planet.

The question is no longer whether governments need to prepare for climate change, the governor said.

He argued — correctly, we think — that Massachusetts must take steps to protect vital services and resources.

In August 2011, the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report projected that rising temperatures will by the year 2100 mean higher coastal waters and far more days when it is over 100 degrees.

Sea levels could rise 11 to 79 inches, the report said. A 100-year flood under these circumstances, it found, would inundate Quincy Market and the TD Banknorth Garden.

The report was drafted by a 34-member committee of scientists, environmentalists, local and regional planners and medical and business groups.

The biggest piece of the governor’s plan involves the state Department of Energy Resources. It will manage a $40 million grant program to help communities see to it that climate change does not undermine the ways they obtain power. It will be paid for through funds provided by utilities that fail to meet their obligations under the state’s renewable energy program.

A reliable supply of energy, it is believed, will be threatened by the intensity and frequency of storms brought on by rising temperatures. Energy Secretary Rick Sullivan has said that recent storms in New England “serve as a reminder that it is critical we secure our energy grid to endure more extreme weather patterns.”

The plan calls for the state Department of Public Utilities to work with the energy industry to do all it can to weather-proof its services from disruption.

Up to $2 million will also be made available to coastal communities for work to deal with surges during storms and to promote beach, dune and salt marsh infrastructure projects. The state’s beaches can be expected to take a beating from rising sea levels and storms.

Another focus is protecting roads. The state Department of Transportation will be required under the governor’s plan to study the threat storms pose to all state roads and come up with ideas on how to protect them by next year.

The integrity of public water supplies is of course also a concern.

This being a government project, it would be natural for it to fade from view. To help keep that from happening, and to rally public support for climate-change preparedness, the plan calls for a state climatologist to take up the task of tracking change. And to get word out to state residents, a new online portal will provide real-time access to the latest intelligence on climate change here in Massachusetts.

Given the scope of the problem, Patrick’s plan is just a beginning.

It’s an important one, though. Steps like these can no longer be viewed as insurance policies. They are the actual stuff of gearing up for bad weather coming our way.

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