Massachusetts and the Northeast, like the rest of the world, are affected by global warming. This alarming phenomenon due to heat-trapping emissions from human activities needs to be tackled. For the past several years, the climate has changed a lot in Massachusetts: spring arrives earlier, the temperatures in summer and in winter are higher, and there is less and less snow in winter. This climate change can have dramatic consequences on the environment, the economy and the quality of life in Massachusetts and it is going to be worse if emissions continue to grow.
Past emissions have already set in motion unavoidable changes. Decisions and emissions choices have now to be made to counteract climate change and protect the future generations from the most severe consequences of global warming.
There are two different emissions scenarios:
- High-emissions scenario : if no efforts are made, fossil fuels continue to be used and heat-trapping emissions are still growing
- Lower-emissions scenario : if there is an increase in the use of clean energy technologies and a decrease in emissions
Climate change may affect Massachusetts and other Northeast States in different ways. However, if the high-emission scenario were to continue, the consequences could be dire. The consequences are:
- Temperature : it could rise 8°F to 12°F above historic levels in winter and 6°F to 14°F in summer by late century
- Precipitations and winter snow : winter precipitation will increase from 20 to 30%, there will be less snow and more rain, more flooding and heavy, damaging rainfall events
- Drought and stream flow : the frequency of short-term droughts will increase and the summer stream flow decrease because of the rise in temperatures and the change in summer rainfall. This will increase stress on ecosystems and water supply in the State.
- Sea-level rise: the global sea-level is expected to rise between 10 inches and 2 feet by the end of the century. This is particularly alarming in Massachusetts where the coast is densely populated: 4.8 Million people live along Massachusetts’ coastline. There will be an increase in the frequency and severity of damaging storm surges and coastal flooding.
Global warming will have many impacts on coastal communities, human health, fisheries, agriculture, forests, and winter recreation. Massachusetts policy makers will have to make decisions to protect the population, wildlife, and critical coastal wetlands.
What can be done by individual households, businesses and governments to reduce emissions ?
Massachusetts and the Northeast are global leaders in technology, finance and innovation and they are a major source of heat-trapping emissions as well. They can launch a national and international progress if they make sustained efforts to reduce emissions.
The main goal is to reduce global emissions below the lower-emissions scenario, that is to say 80% below 2000 levels by mid-century.
State and local governments have to implement effective adaptation strategies to reduce the threat to Massachusetts’ residents, ecosystems and economies. To reach this goal and meet the climate challenge, they have different strategies and policies in the following sectors:
- Electric power: reform and replace the aging inefficient coal and oil-burning power plants that account for almost 40% of Massachusetts’ electric power.
- Buildings: increase infrastructure spending to protect vulnerable neighborhoods in coastal communities, support stronger enforcement of building energy codes and amend zoning laws. Local governments can require that new construction and renovation projects achieve the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification for example.
- Transportation : invest in public transportation, create incentives to purchase low-emission vehicles, promote ‘’smart growth’’ strategies
- Industries and large institutions can install combined-heat-and- power and on-site renewable energy systems to reduce emissions
- Forestry and agriculture: refine the policies in Massachusetts to promote practices that cost-effectively reduce emissions, for example: increase the use of wind and bioenergy.
Massachusetts is exposed to climate change and its consequences. The State now has to meet the challenge of tackling global warming locally by reducing emissions. The State has to act swiftly to ensure the future of the coming generations.
Information in this article is taken from November 2011, article ‘'Massachusetts, Confronting Climate Change in the US Northeast‘’ by John F. Shea, from Mackie Shea O’Brien.