New Yale Climate Maps Show the Need to Talk More About Climate Change

by Daniel Brown

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, one of the foremost research groups studying public perceptions of climate change, recently released an updated version of their famed climate opinion maps.

These maps show how fundamental understanding of climate change differs across the country, and the newest edition raises many interesting findings. Here are a few points that jump out:

Massachusetts residents have slowly but surely improved in their understanding that climate change is real and caused by our use of fossil fuels. More than 97% of climate scientists have published research confirming or acknowledging this fact. About 62% of Massachusetts residents understand it. That’s not great, but it’s 5% better than the national average.New Hampshire, Maine, and Pennsylvania show a below-average level of understanding of the fact that climate change is real and human-caused, which makes them out-of-place in the Northeast. We clearly need to do a better job of talking with friends and family in those states about climate change.

Overall, states with a better understanding of climate change tend to lean left in elections. Those with a lower understanding tend to lean to the political right. While climate change is a scientific fact and shouldn’t reflect partisan preference, this is a striking visual. It shows the lingering damage of climate change denial campaigns by special interest groups that have made the issue a political one. What’s encouraging for Massachusetts is that every county in the state showed above-average understanding regardless of political or social differences.

In many states, including Massachusetts, public understanding is sufficiently high for political leaders to take meaningful action to fight climate change. But even in most of those states, leaders have not yet implemented actions on the ground. While Massachusetts is generally considered ahead of the curve, we are still falling behind on large-scale actions recommended by climate scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The maps highlight a need for all of us to talk about climate change often among our own social networks, to put pressure on our political leaders to take action, and lead by example in whatever ways we can.

Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

End of Session Wrap-up

by Karen Heymann

On July 31st, the clock ran out for the majority of the  8,727 bills filed in the 2017-2018 legislative session, of which around only 400 were signed into law by Governor Baker. While there are many factors that go into determining the probability of a bill becoming law, those numbers translate to about a 5% chance of getting a bill passed in the Massachusetts legislature. That number drops even lower once you subtract the number of routine bills filed, such as the state budget, liquor licenses and sick leave banks.

Given these odds, the passage of our priority bill, An Act providing for the establishment of a comprehensive adaptation management plan in response to climate change, or CAMP, first filed in 2015, was remarkable. This success represented the collective efforts of many, including the Baker administration, legislators, municipal leaders, environmental organizations, businesses and others. The strong support of the Baker administration was essential; not only had Governor Baker adopted the major provisions of CAMP in an Executive Order (an excellent step, but not law), he also took advantage of the need for a new environmental bond bill and included CAMP as an outside section of the bill when he filed it. Bond bills are funding authorizations typically passed every 5 years, and can be one of the best legislative vehicles for environmental legislation, since bond bills are usually passed in the same session they are filed.

Mass Audubon advocacy director Jack Clarke, Governor Charlie Baker, and Mass Audubon president Gary Clayton at the bond announcement in Scituate back in March following a severe winter storm season

When we first started working to get this bill filed in 2015, few legislators were aware of the seriousness and magnitude of the climate threats facing Massachusetts. Even just a few years ago climate change still seemed far off, something that would impact future, not current, generations. The frequency and severity of winter storms over the past few winters however, were a wake up call to many that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and that we need a comprehensive plan to prepare to deal with this threat. With the passage of CAMP, the current and future administrations are required to update a statewide climate adaptation plan every 5 years, and to support a program to provide technical and financial assistance to communities in assessing and addressing their own climate impacts.

The Bond: A Deeper Dive

Also included in the environmental bond bill were provisions which will also help reduce the Commonwealth’s climate emissions by protecting, restoring, and enhancing natural carbon storage areas like forests and salt marshes. One of Mass Audubon’s priority bills, supporting the Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership (MTWP), was included in the final environmental bond, and will support rural economic development in the Berkshire region by promoting local sustainable forestry and eco-tourism. Mass Audubon’s Losing Ground report series has documented the threats facing privately-owned forests in Massachusetts, largely from residential and commercial development. Innovative forest management approaches, such as the MTWP, could serve as a model for other states facing similar development threats to forests and other open space.

Not all of our legislative priorities were included in the final bond or approved for final passage. The “No net loss” or “Public Lands Protection Act” (PLPA) bill, which would have codified existing state policy preventing the loss of constitutionally-protected open space (known as Article 97 lands) by requiring replacement land, as well as notification to EEA prior to filing legislation to dispose of land, was not adopted. A statewide ban on plastic bags, adopted as an amendment in the Senate, was not included in the final bond bill despite local bag-ban ordinances in over 70 cities and towns. And our priority bill that would have improved protections for pollinators statewide also ran out of time.

The newly-passed energy bill will allow for further expansion of offshore wind development off Massachusetts’ coast.

The Governor did sign into law an energy bill that increases the growth rate of the state Renewable Portfolio Standard to 2% per year until 2029 and then 1% thereafter. This will increase the percentage of our energy required to come from renewable sources to 35% by 2030 (previously set at 25%) and to 45% by 2040 (previously set at 35%). Among other things, the bill establishes stronger targets for energy storage, and increased the potential for Massachusetts to procure up to 1,600 additional megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035.

In FY19 state budget news, the legislature approved healthy increases for the environmental agencies, but did not include two critical and widely supported sources of conservation funding: an increase for the Land Conservation Tax Credit and a much boost for the Community Preservation Trust fund, which provides a state match for locally-raised Community Preservation Act dollars. One of the big challenges for next session will be brainstorming ways to move forward funding increases for these two popular and critical sources of land protection funding.

Karen Heymann is Mass Audubon’s legislative director

Important Conversations on Conservation

Recently, Congresswoman Katherine Clark convened an environmental round table at Mass Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary. Mass Audubon staff, including president Gary Clayton, Broadmoor director Elissa Landry, and legislative director Karen Heymann, and our partner groups shared ideas and concerns, including those involving unprecedented threats facing federal laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act. We also discussed the need to reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) before it expires in September.  We agreed that these challenging times require strong partnerships and a greater resolve to work together to find new solutions.

Karen Heymann (left) during a roundtable discussion with Congresswoman Clark (second from left) and environmental partners at Mass Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

For 52 years, LWCF has protected national parks and open spaces in every corner of the United States. Massachusetts alone has received more than $223 million from the LWCF to protect everything from wildlife refuges and working forests to community parks.

In support of LWCF, legislative director Karen Heymann spoke alongside Congressman Joe Kennedy and other environmental groups at an event at Fisher Hill Reservoir Park in Brookline. Hosted by the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the event focused on the importance of protecting our natural spaces for future generations.

Several environmental groups were represented on the panel of speakers that joined Congressman Kennedy (center)

Fuel Economy Standards Rollback: Worst Environmental Decision Yet

By Daniel Brown

Update: The public comment period is now open. You can oppose the emissions rollbacks here.

The Trump administration has made several decisions that threaten the environment and prioritize corporate profits above the health of our kids and wildlife. The legacy of the Trump administration is already well-established as one of the worst, if not the worst, environmental administrations in modern U.S. history.

But the move to freeze and effectively reverse fuel efficiency standards for cars will be this administration’s single most destructive environmental decision to date. It will make it a virtual certainty that the U.S. will not meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, that we will continue to emit heat-trapping carbon at a rapid rate, and that the planet will continue to warm. Because the United States is the second largest carbon emitter and largest per capita by far, this disastrous political maneuver also puts the future health of other countries at risk.

Heat-trapping carbon, released into the atmosphere through our burning of gasoline and other fossil fuels, is permanent. It will continue to warm the planet and lead to greater harm for the foreseeable future. The damage carbon emissions do to the atmosphere cannot be nursed back to recovery like an endangered species pushed to the brink of extinction. It cannot be cleaned and restored as a river might be, and it doesn’t regrow over generations as an irresponsibly clear-cut forest does. Carbon is forever. The Trump administration’s rollback will likely increase carbon emissions 11% by 2035. That’s moving in the wrong direction.

Not Just Bad for the Environment, But for the Economy

The move will also make cars sold in the United States more expensive to operate, costing all Americans $450 billion through 2050. This is especially true for light-duty trucks and large-engine road vehicles, where saving even a single mile per gallon represents a major change in efficiency over time. Farmers, already stretched by the fallout from Trump’s tariffs, will be spending much more to fill up their trucks. Compared to 1975, cars and light-duty vehicles are now about twice as fuel efficient. For a given tank of gas, you can go about twice as far, and your gas bill is about half of what it would have been. In total, that increased efficiency has saved Americans about $4 trillion dollars.

But that savings is not just in dollars. Greater fuel efficiency also simply saves fuel, a critical commodity. American fuel efficiency improvements translate into about 1.5 trillion gallons of gas saved–a staggering number. For comparison, that’s enough gas to power every car and light-duty truck currently on the road for the next 10 years. When properly managed, that saved fuel is a major benefit to national security and disaster preparedness.

The decision to roll back the fuel efficiency standards will also give foreign automakers that design cars primarily for rational, fuel-efficient markets worldwide a distinct advantage. We have seen this effect in the past. Fuel efficiency was a major reason for the rapid domestic market shift toward more fuel-efficient Japanese brands in the 1980s and 90s. American car companies will be forced to create a greater number of models, optimize designs differently for different markets, and will be less competitive overall.

The proposed changes to vehicle emissions standards would halt our recent strides in efficiency. Photo credit: Kevin Payravi

Fighting Back Against Bad Policy

The move by the Trump administration to freeze fuel efficiency standards and attack California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to follow stricter guidelines has no rational basis. It was presented based on fabricated rationale that is simply, demonstrably false. It has no apparent benefit for anyone except for one industry: Big Oil. It’s bad for consumers, bad for our kids, bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and bad for national security. It has left many on both sides of the aisle scratching their heads. Governor Baker, among other Republicans, has announced his opposition to repealing the rule.

There is room for hope. A legal battle will ensue with California, Massachusetts and other states* that follow California’s lead in setting stricter car emission standards. California’s standards currently apply to about 35% percent of the U.S. automobile market, and as of yesterday, 16 states already filed suit to block changes to the fuel efficiency rules (20 states announced their intent).

States in the U.S. Climate Alliance (which includes 16 states and Puerto Rico) that have not yet adopted California’s standards could do so, and the Massachusetts delegation could encourage those states to act quickly. With more states following California’s lead, the administration’s questionable arguments grow thinner. Governor Baker has already spoken out against the proposal, stating that his administration plans to work “across borders to seek solutions and adopt best practices to further protect the health of our residents, combat climate change and build the transportation system of tomorrow.”

This environmentally-destructive action of the Trump administration is yet another call to action. It will require us to be leaders as individuals, setting an example among our own families and neighborhoods, demonstrating that we can save gas the way our forebears did, by walking more, biking more, taking the T, and driving less.

As a Commonwealth, we will need to take an even greater lead in making sure the cars on our roads emit as little as possible and that we continue to meet the goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act. With or without federal mandate, we must honor our commitment to protect the climate for future generations.

*The other states and territories that have adopted the California standards are: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and District of Columbia.

Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

Climate Adaptation Legislation Passed!

We are proud to report that our climate change adaptation legislation, our top legislative priority for the past four years, has passed as part of major environmental legislation (see below). This bill makes law a requirement for Massachusetts to adopt a statewide plan to address the impacts of climate change, and also codifies a grant and technical assistance program for cities and towns to develop their own plans. The bill also provides funding authorization for a voluntary coastal buyback program to help willing homeowners relocate away from hazardous coastal zones. It will be the first plan of its kind in the country to be codified into law.

Protecting wetlands that act as natural flood absorbers is one adaptation strategy

Along with our 52-member Climate Change Adaptation Coalition, we thank the bill’s sponsors Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) and Representative Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) for their tireless dedication in getting this bill over the finish line.

Details on the Environmental Bond

The environmental bond that includes our adaptation bill is now on the way to Governor Baker’s desk for his signature. The bond bill passed today was a compromise between the versions passed separately in the House and Senate. It authorizes $2.4 billion funding for conservation grant programs, climate resiliency, and coastal infrastructure, with special consideration given to projects utilizing nature-based solutions. In addition to our climate adaptation bill, the bond included a number of other policy provisions we support including the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership, a grassroots initiative to stimulate conservation, sustainable forestry, and eco-tourism in the Berkshire region.

Our Commonwealth Conservation Council, a coalition of statewide organizations which Mass Audubon chairs, advocated for a strong bond bill. While we consider the final legislation to be a success, we were disappointed that several components from Senate version were not included in the final bill. These included a provision to ensure consistency between the statewide adaptation plan and other state policies, a statewide plastic bag ban, and codification of the state’s “no net loss” policy for permanently-protected conservation land.

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Endangered Species at Risk Again

Over the past few weeks, the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) has come under unprecedented threat. For 45 years the law has successfully protected wildlife, including species like the Bald Eagle, which the ESA helped bring back from the brink of disappearing in the US. In fact, thanks to the ESA, more than 99 percent of the nearly 1,800 animals and plants protected by it have been saved from extinction.

Now, the ESA is under attack. In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives, and amendments designed to weaken the law have surfaced. Many of these proposed changes have been under the guise of “updating” or “reforming” the Act, but in reality would undermine its core principles and gut its scientific basis for protecting wildlife.

Bald eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Bald Eagle © Robert DesRosiers

Earlier this month, Mass Audubon and 420 other national, state, and local conservation groups sent a letter to US Senate and House leadership voicing our overwhelming support for the ESA. Our group included at least one organization from all 50 states.

We’ll be continuing to follow this issue closely, and will keep you updated with actions you can take to keep the ESA firmly in place.

North Atlantic Right Whales Need Our Help

The North Atlantic right whale is in trouble. Since April 2017, at least 18 North Atlantic right whales have died and, for the first time ever, no new calves have been spotted this year. Scientists estimate that fewer than 440 individuals remain. Right whales are often killed by entanglement in commercial fishing gear and ship strikes, and their low population numbers can’t afford to let these incidents continue.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. Photo credit: NOAA

Mass Audubon is writing to our congressional delegation in support of the federal SAVE Right Whales Act, sponsored by Congressman Seth Moulton and Senator Cory Booker. The SAVE Right Whales Act would establish a new grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the fishing and shipping industries to reduce the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. Please ask your US Representative and Senators to support this bill.

You can also call on NOAA to continue stepping up efforts to protect these creatures. Ask Regional Administrator Michael Pentony and his Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office to expand their efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales, since the measures implemented to date by federal regulators have not gone far enough to save them from the threat of extinction.

 

 

Support Funding for Conservation Land Donations

Massachusetts’ Conservation Land Tax Credit (CLTC) program offers an incentive for landowners who donate land for conservation purposes. CLTC is long overdue for a funding expansion that would allow for a larger number of these credits to be offered.

Photo credit: Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust

The House version of the state budget passed earlier this spring included that funding increase, proposing to raise the cap on CLTC from $2 million to $5 million over the next three years. Now, a conference committee is settling the differences between the House and Senate budget versions, and are expected to report out their own version on Wednesday for the Governor’s approval.

You can help CLTC get its funding! Please contact your legislator, and ask them to urge budget conference committee members to keep the CLTC increase in the budget.

Action You Can Take This Week: Ask Your State Senator to Support Climate Change Funding

The Governor’s environmental bond bill is expected to go to the Senate floor for a vote this week. This bond includes several components of our priority climate change adaptation bill, and if signed into law, its passage will be an important step toward implementing goals we’ve been advocating for over the past six years.

You can help by contacting your state Senator and asking them to vote yes on S.2591.

Climate Central Explains Reality – Four U.S. Senators Object

By Daniel Brown

Four Republican Senators, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, James Lankford, and Jim Inhofe, each of whom have denied the reality of climate change in the past, signed a letter asking the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate funding they awarded to the non-profit organization Climate Central, suggesting Climate Central is propagandizing. That’s false. Climate Central is not an advocacy organization. They simply explain scientific reality.

Climate Central has been using the NSF funds to run the Climate Matters program, which educates local TV meteorologists about climate change. The program has been incredibly successful. It has measurably improved TV meteorologists understanding of how climate change influences short-term weather conditions. In the past, TV meteorologists, who usually major in communications or meteorology to focus on 10-day weather forecasts, often receive little or no education on climate changes that span decades or more. As a result, local weather forecasters tended to be more skeptical of climate change than climate scientists. According to NBC News, the Climate Matters program has been extremely effective at closing that gap. As of 2017, 95% of TV forecasters understand that the climate is changing.

Flooding following a storm this past winter. Photo credit: FEMA

Climate Central simply teaches the scientific facts of climate change—the same publicly available information that can be found in the Fourth National Climate Assessment or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reports. The only thing different about what Climate Central does is their approach and masterful skill in communicating facts that have been out there, vetted, peer-reviewed, and verified in study after study.

Climate Central’s work is used widely teachers and policymakers and other professionals. Their Surging Seas tool, for example, helps communities identify risks from rising sea levels. They constantly identify changes in aspects of climate that could pose risks for various industries, like maple sugaring, lobstering, or downhill skiing. They provide a great education service and help us responsibly prepare for what’s ahead.

The four Senators took notice of Climate Central’s work only after NBC News made it clear that scientific facts were defeating misinformation. Science, communicated well by Climate Central, funded effectively by the NSF and summarized with good journalism by NBC News and other outlets, compelled these four Senators to deny the reality we face. It’s troublesome that political leaders continue to object to science education that can help protect Americans from harm. We need our lawmakers to rely on sound evidence to build a better future for our kids and grandkids.

Participants in the Boston March for Science

In Massachusetts, we must continue to thank our U.S. delegation for supporting action on climate change, and we need to remind them that Massachusetts is and must remain a leader in supporting climate education and finding solutions.

Daniel Brown is Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator