Climate battle now local
States, cities not waiting around as Trump dismisses dire warnings
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.