Sunday, October 16, 2011

The canaries have fled the coal mines

How Climate Change Threatens Our Commonwealth

You are no doubt familiar with the reported practice of coal miners taking canaries with them into the coal mines as a way of detecting the presence of toxic gases. Because they were more susceptible to the harmful effects of the gases, the canaries would get sick before the miners and thereby serve as "sentinels".

Over the past few weeks, two reports have been issued by institutions here in my home state of Massachusetts that contain both disturbing and (hopefully) enlightening revelations that may also serve as important warning signals about a serious and growing problem we can ill afford to ignore.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) released "The Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report". The report was prepared by EEA staff and an advisory committee comprised of experts from a wide range of relevant fields. It is the first broad overview of climate change as it affects Massachusetts, the impacts of this change, vulnerabilities of multiple sectors ranging from natural resources, infrastructure, public health, and the economy. It also provides an analysis of potential strategies that could help prepare its residents for what the authors acknowledge is a changing world. According to the report:
"Massachusetts‘ climate is already changing and will continue to do so over the course of this century—ambient temperature has increased by approximately 1°C (1.8°F) since 1970 and sea surface temperature by 1.3°C (2.3°F) between 1970 and 2002. These warming trends have been associated with other observed changes, including a rise in sea level of 22 centimeters (cms) between 1921 and 2006, more frequent days with temperatures above 32°C (90°F), reduced snowpack, and earlier snow melt and spring peak flows (Frumhoff et al., 2006, 2007; Hayhoe et al., 2006)."
Around the same time, Mass Audubon released a publication entitled State of the Birds. It notes that:
"Climate change is affecting our bird populations. There is a notable increase in both the distributions and abundance of species that have expanded their breeding range northward in the last 50 years. At the same time, northern species are declining in abundance as breeders in the state. Resident species are increasing in abundance at a faster rate than species that are either long- or short-distance migrants, possibly another signal from a changing climate."
Will these serve as a "wake-up call" that will awaken Massachusetts residents and policymakers to the need for re-thinking and redesigning our relationship with the planet and with one another? O.K., I realize that may be asking for a bit too much. How about starting with a commitment to support the sustainable development of our offshore wind resources? It is arguably the most concrete step we take to help avoid a climatic catastrophe.


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