Cli­mate bat­tle now lo­cal

States, cities not wait­ing around as Trump dis­misses dire warn­ings

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Trevor Hughes

BOS­TON – On a sunny sum­mer’s day at Christo­pher Colum­bus Park on Bos­ton’s water­front, it’s hard to pic­ture the dor­mant fury of the At­lantic Ocean as it laps softly at the creak­ing docks.

But one day, a storm driven by un­usu­ally high winds and high tides will pour wa­ter over the park’s grassy rise and in­un­date the ar­bors where grapevines trail and new­ly­weds pose for pho­tos. The wa­ters will rush across the brick pavers onto At­lantic Av­enue and flow to­ward his­toric Fa­neuil Hall and Quincy Mar­ket, where gen­er­a­tions of tourists have learned about the Bos­ton Tea Party. The flood­wa­ters will threaten nearby Old North Church, where Paul Re­vere’s ride kicked off, and lap at the edges of Bunker Hill.

High tides and strong storms al­ready reg­u­larly in­un­date the area, but this storm would be dif­fer­ent. It’s a vi­sion that keeps Bos­ton Mayor Marty Walsh

“It’s re­ally sim­ple: This isn’t a po­lit­i­cal is­sue. The changes we are see­ing first­hand are af­fect­ing our com­mu­ni­ties, our economies, af­fect­ing ways of life that have ex­isted for mil­len­nia.”

Michael LeVine, of the non­profit Ocean Con­ser­vancy

up at night.

That’s why Walsh is pre­par­ing to have the city spend bil­lions of dol­lars over the next decade to try to blunt the ef­forts of cli­mate change on the city, in­clud­ing ar­mor­ing Colum­bus Park and gen­tly rais­ing it up to pro­vide a buf­fer against the worst of what the At­lantic can throw.

The plans to har­den Colum­bus Park and large por­tions of the city’s 47 miles of shore­line are part of a mas­sive but gen­er­ally un­co­or­di­nated lo­cal-level ef­fort across the coun­try to fight the changes that will ac­com­pany the Earth as it con­tin­ues warm­ing.

A sur­vey of may­ors found that 57 per­cent of cities are plan­ning to take cli­mate-re­lated ac­tions this year. And dozens of the coun­try’s largest cities have com­mit­ted to meet­ing the terms of the 2025 Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change, which Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is with­draw­ing from on a na­tional level.

Frus­trated by what they see as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to de-em­pha­size the dan­ger posed by cli­mate change, lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, non-profit lead­ers and univer­sity re­searchers are forg­ing ahead with lim­ited re­sources in a piece­meal ap­proach they say is bet­ter than noth­ing. They’re hard­en­ing build­ings, dig­ging big­ger storm drains and chang­ing zon­ing laws to keep homes from be­ing built in flood-prone ar­eas.

While many cities and states are try­ing to re­duce emis­sions of green­house gases to slow global warm­ing, these more con­crete ef­forts are aimed at mit­i­gat­ing the ac­tual ef­fects of cli­mate change, which many elected of­fi­cials say is po­lit­i­cally eas­ier to tackle.

“Cli­mate change is real and it’s im­pact­ing our city right now,” said Walsh. “We just can’t back down from the threat re­gard­less of what’s hap­pen­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. I would love to have a strong fed­eral part­ner. We don’t have that right now. But that doesn’t mean we stop.”

An ex­haus­tive fed­eral re­port warned re­cently that cli­mate change could, un­der a worst-case sce­nario, de­liver a 10 per­cent hit to the na­tion’s GDP by the end of the cen­tury. The 1,600-page Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment de­tails the cli­mate and eco­nomic im­pacts U.S. res­i­dents will see if dras­tic ac­tion is not taken to ad­dress cli­mate change.

The re­port says the chang­ing cli­mate poses a cas­cad­ing se­ries of linked risks, like storms de­stroy­ing ag­ing bridges and roads, which will then make it harder to move food and fuel around the coun­try, and droughts mak­ing it harder for power plants across the West to safely gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity due to a lack of re­quired cool­ing wa­ter. Mean­while, larger in­sect pop­u­la­tions in north­ern ar­eas could bring more Lyme, West Nile and Zika in­fec­tions to ar­eas that were once free of them.

Trump down­played the find­ings, com­plain­ing that the United States is al­ready very “clean” and that other coun­tries aren’t ad­dress­ing cli­mate change.

Ex­perts say the dev­as­tat­ing and un­usu­ally pow­er­ful hur­ri­canes that have struck the East Coast over the past decade have done more than any politi­cian could to raise aware­ness of just how much risk the na­tion faces.

Across the coun­try, com­mu­ni­ties are draw­ing on univer­sity ex­perts and non­profit sci­en­tists to help chart their course, which they say must be laid down to pre­pare for fu­ture cli­mate-re­lated dis­as­ters.

Some of the ef­forts are small, like Den­ver’s de­ci­sion to cre­ate a list of air­con­di­tioned fa­cil­i­ties where res­i­dents can take refuge dur­ing heat waves. Oth­ers are more am­bi­tious: In Alaska, of­fi­cials are pre­par­ing to re­lo­cate sev­eral na­tive vil­lages in dan­ger of be­ing washed away by seas that no longer freeze solid for months at a time. Many more fall into the mid­dle, like the de­ci­sion by Florida Keys of­fi­cials to raise up por­tions of their low-ly­ing roads to serve as flood bar­ri­ers, or ef­forts in Austin, Texas, to re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion in an­tic­i­pa­tion of droughts.

“It’s re­ally sim­ple: This isn’t a po­lit­i­cal is­sue. The changes we are see­ing first­hand are af­fect­ing our com­mu­ni­ties, our economies, af­fect­ing ways of life that have ex­isted for mil­len­nia,” said Michael LeVine of the non­profit Ocean Con­ser­vancy, which has worked on cli­mate change is­sues in Alaska. “We sim­ply don’t have a choice. It is in­cum­bent on us as Alaskans to work to­gether. We are past the point of fight­ing of about who did what, who caused what, or what the po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences might be. Our way of life de­pends on adapt­ing to the changes that are hap­pen­ing.”


Top: A Coast Guard team evac­u­ates peo­ple from a Hous­ton neigh­bor­hood in­un­dated by Trop­i­cal Storm Har­vey in 2017. Above: The tiny is­land town of Shish­maref, Alaska, is van­ish­ing into the ocean be­cause of ero­sion.

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