Steve Long, director of government relations in Massachusetts, shares his thoughts.
“We have to plan for how our climate will shift, and adjust our economy, our infrastructure and our communities accordingly.”
— Steve Long
What does climate adaptation mean? Are we giving up on halting climate change?
It isn’t a question of reducing emissions or adaptation. It can and must be both. If we stopped emitting greenhouse gasses today, we would still feel the impacts of decades of pollution already in the atmosphere. A certain amount of change is inevitable.
Adaptation simply means changes made by human and natural communities in response to climate changes and their impacts. We can both help protect species and habitats during a time of transition, and can protect human communities by using nature as an ally to buffer some of the impacts of a changing climate.
Why is climate adaptation important for Massachusetts?
New England is highly vulnerable to climate change. A large portion of our population lives either on the coast or near rivers and faces the impacts of sea level rise, storm surge and more intensive storms. Had the timing of the tide been just a few hours different, Boston might have been underwater in Hurricane Sandy, instead of Manhattan.
Some of our traditional industries — maple syrup production, lobstering, skiing and fishing — are dependent on a colder climate. We can’t be naïve. We have to plan for how our climate will shift, and adjust our economy, our infrastructure and our communities accordingly.
What’s being done at the state level to prepare for climate change?
Massachusetts has been a national leader in reducing emissions and boosting energy efficiency. The 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act and the comprehensive 2011 Climate Change Adaptation Report (to which we contributed) were among the nation’s first. Many state agencies have taken a leadership role to address climate impacts. However, our leaders need to develop an integrated approach to adaptation – translating the report into funded policy priorities.
What’s happening nationally that will affect us here in New England?
The Conservancy continues to advocate for policy that places a price on carbon to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and is working simultaneously to promote adaptation nationally.
We’re working to promote disaster aid and infrastructure development policies that promote nature-based solutions as a way to reduce risk and increase community resilience. We’re also working to minimize current policies and practices that create incentives for development in areas at high risk of flooding and coastal storms. To that end we helped successfully pass significant reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program that passed Congress last year.