Discover more from Talking Climate with Katharine Hayhoe
Regional Climate Action in the US
Innovative climate solutions, autumn's shift, and how to spark change in your community
When you think of climate action in the U.S., California might be the first state that comes to mind. But did you know that Massachusetts and the broader Northeast region are climate champions too?
I made a small contribution to this effort back in 2007 when I co-led the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment along with Cameron Wake. This pivotal work laid the foundation for a revolutionary regional greenhouse gas emission trading program. Fast forward 15 years, and the ripples of these and many other efforts are evident. The Northeast is a leader in energy efficiency and emission reductions.
Just a few weeks ago, I was in Boston for the honour of being inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences alongside colleagues including(water and climate), (climate impacts and justice) and Harriet Bulkeley (sustainability). While in town, I fit in 20 additional events, meeting with everyone from physicians at the Harvard Medical School’s C-Change Center to our scientists at The Nature Conservancy.
A highlight was my conversation with Reverend Mariama White-Hammond Boston’s Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, and Melissa Hoffer, the state’s inaugural Climate Chief, at an event with WGBH. Our discussion is something you won’t want to miss—you can watch it here.
There’s so much going on in Boston and the broader Northeast I wanted to share; so that’s what this newsletter is all about!
In 2016, the City of Boston released its Climate Ready Boston report, and the city has since developed coastal resilience plans that contain strategies to tackle coastal flooding along the city’s 47 miles of coast. Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox, is also home to a rooftop urban farm that, for nearly a decade now, has grown 6,000 pounds of produce a year.
Nature can help when it comes to climate solutions, and the state knows this too. In June, Massachusetts announced its “Forests as Climate Solutions” initiative, to help the commonwealth reach its goal of protecting 40 percent of its land by mid-century and hit its net-zero targets.
Good jobs and affordable living are key issues for many in Boston; so I was encouraged to hear of PowerCorpsBOS. It’s a green jobs training program for Boston residents with a high school diploma and GED who are interested in six months of outdoor, hands-on work. The goal of this program is to equip young people with the skills and opportunities needed to land them good jobs that can accelerate the clean energy and resilience transition while allowing them to earn a decent wage.
These are great examples of the broad range of solutions we need to reduce emissions, invest in nature, and build resilience to climate impacts. More, please!
Massachusetts is often referred to as the “Saudi Arabia of Wind” thanks to its strong and consistent off-shore breezes. Wind is a key part of the state’s aggressive Clean Energy and Climate Plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, a big issue standing in the way is NIMBYism—Not in My Back Yard.
Many people in better-off neighbourhoods support clean energy and electrification; yet some don’t want the power sub-station in their neighbourhood, the power cable running under their land, or wind turbines visible on the horizon of their view. As Rev. White-Hammond puts it so powerfully, “environmental justice says we need to ask hard questions about who is asked to carry the burden and who receives the benefits.” We need solutions that benefit everyone; and the challenges she sees every day emphasize how it’s on all of us to step up and take responsibility for the changes that will ensure a better future for us all.
There’s no shortage of evidence that change is necessary. Across the region, people are seeing milder, shorter winters with far less snow, less impressive fall foliage and unpredictable maple syrup and lobster harvests. Sea level rise is accelerating, putting many iconic coastal towns at risk. Heavy rains and record-breaking heat are imperiling farmers’ crops, while undesirable species like ticks and poison ivy are thriving in this warmer world.
If you’re interested in more, the New England News Collaborative, a consortium of nine public radio stations, has an excellent series, Beyond Normal, that discusses these and many other ways climate change is putting this region at risk. As we see everywhere, climate change is no longer a future issue: it’s here and now.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
I often talk about using your voice; and in speaking with Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, she repeatedly highlighted how powerful voices can be in catalyzing local change.
As a city official, she emphasized how, when citizens show up to city meetings to advocate for climate solutions, they can often say things that she can’t—and the city listens. The same can be true for counties, school boards, water districts, publicly-owned utilities, and many other organizational entities that hold public meetings and invite public comment.
I learned from reading Eric Liu’s book, "You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen," that only 0.1% of elected officials in the U.S. are at the federal level. They’re the most sought out and least likely to listen – but that means that 99.9% are much more likely!
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has a handy article with concrete suggestions on how to speak at such meetings effectively. They include: share your name and where you live; add any affiliations that might be pertinent (such as being a member of a local climate group); give a description of the problem you face and its impact on your family, your community, or something you care about; and prepare a question for elected officials on how they can address this problem.
So this week, I encourage you to look up the public meeting schedule for a local organization relevant to where you live. See where you might be able to weigh in on a proposed climate solution. To make it easier, reach out to a local organization that might already have a list of such meetings and ask how you can add your voice and help. For example, Citizens' Climate Lobby has local meetings to learn more about how to engage at the grassroots level in your own area and I know there are many more such organizations. (If you have a favourite one, tell me about it here so I can feature it in the future.)
We can’t fix climate change alone; but I know we can do it together!
Sun., Oct. 29th at 4pm CDT - "Blanton Live: Conversations for Now," a panel discussion at the exhibit at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, TX - in person