Author Archives: Alexandra Vecchio

About Alexandra Vecchio

Mass Audubon's Climate Change Program Coordinator

Compost Bucket via Elaine/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Compost for the Climate

Compost Bucket via Elaine/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0
Compost Bucket via Elaine/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, food waste makes up one-quarter of our state’s trash. That means your biodegradable apple cores and other plant based materials are needlessly taking up space in landfills and causing negative environmental impacts. But there’s an easy fix. Enter composting.

Composting is not new. In fact, as long as plants have been growing, compost has been happening. What do you think happens to all those leaves that fall off the trees in the forests? That’s right –- Mother Nature is the original compost queen!

Any good farmer will tell you that good compost is one of the best soil amendments around. What you should also know is that composting helps alleviate climate change.

Ready to take action? Sign the pledge and start composting. Or keep reading to learn more.

It Works Like This

When organic materials like food and yard waste break down in a compost pile, with plenty of air and water present, the carbon that is released is stored in the new compost, instead of being sent out into the atmosphere. This carbon sequestration –- keeping the carbon “locked up” — helps reduce the greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

If those same organic materials break down in a landfill, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are released, contributing to warming our planet.

An Easy to Access Solution

According to calculations from Project Drawdown, an estimated 38% of food waste was composted in the U.S. in 2015. In the European Union, that number is much higher: nearly 57%.

Compost can happen on large or small scales. Some cities already collect household food waste. In 2009, San Francisco passed an ordinance that makes composting the city’s food waste mandatory. In Copenhagen, Denmark they have not sent organic waste to landfill for more than 25 years

Many towns in Massachusetts have a compost facility or “stump dump” for yard waste that homeowners and landscapers can use. They won’t take your kitchen waste of course, but it’s not hard to compost in your own yard.

How to Compost at Home

There are a few ways to compost. If you want reduce your waste and get all of the resulting “black gold” dirt, you can set up a compost pile relatively easily at home — find out how. Or, you can take advantage of curbside composting with companies like Black Earth and Dirty Boys. In some towns, you can even drop off diverted food materials. 

Interested in learning more about composting basics and the relevant Massachusetts facilities, check out the resources provided by Mass DEP

Pledge to Compost

If each one of us reduces our personal carbon footprint through composting, it can lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across the state.  

I pledge to start composting at my home or in my garden. If I am already composting as an individual, I will work with my school, employer, or community group to set up a pilot composting program in the next 6 months. 

Sign the pledge >

Nature’s Way of Fighting Climate Change

We are now living in a world where scientists are telling us that urgent and unprecedented changes are needed if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Global average temperatures today are 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and we are in the fight of our lives to avoid surpassing 1.5°C in the coming decades.

Often times, people ask “where is the technology that will save us?” When will scientists figure out how to build a magic vacuum that sucks all the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and help us continue living our lives as we do right now?

Instead of waiting for technology and innovation to save us, we need to look at one of the most historically significant, but underrepresented solutions to climate change: trees.

Why Trees?

Trees are vital to life on our planet for many reasons. They give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilize the soil, and provide habitat for our wildlife.

When it comes to climate change, trees not only help us by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutant particulates, they also help us build resiliency to the increasing impacts of climate change such as increased precipitation, increased temperature, and more.

Maintaining the Massachusetts Tree Canopy

According to a 2017 Harvard study, more than half of Massachusetts is covered by forest, but the state loses about 7,000 acres of forest each year to development.

Our forests and lands offset about 15 percent of the carbon emissions that we emit each year. Carbon storage is just one of the many benefits provided by the world’s forests. With the right management practices, forests filter air and water and provide a home for a diverse range of species.

In addition to our large forested areas, Massachusetts also benefits from the Greening the Gateway Cities Tree Planting Program, which aims to increase the urban tree canopy 5-10% in select neighborhoods of former industrial cities. Thus far this program has planted over 8,000 trees across 13 Gateway Cities.

Trees vs Climate Change

Trees fight climate change in many ways, from the small scale (home & community) to the big scale (national parks and other conserved land).

At Your Home

  • Trees or shrubs planted to shade air conditioners help cool a home more efficiently, using less electricity.
  • According to the US Forest Service, just three trees properly placed around a house can save up to 30% of energy use.

In Your Community

  • Neighborhoods with well-shaded streets can be up to 6-10°F cooler than neighborhoods without street trees, thus reducing the need for increased energy usage.
  • Shaded parking lots also help keep automobiles cooler, reducing emissions from fuel tanks and engines.

Across Protected Lands

  • Forests store large amounts of carbon in their leaves, stems, and other parts of the plant. According to the USDA, forests make up 90% of the natural environments in the US that absorb carbon (otherwise known as the carbon sink) and sequester approximately 10% of US CO2 emissions.
  • For each area of forest protected, the threat of deforestation and degradation is removed, leading to reduced CO2 emissions.

Be a Climate Hero: Pledge to Plant a Tree

Planting trees is a strategy that can be implemented now and offers more additional benefits than nearly any other climate change solution.

Ready to be a climate hero? Sign our pledge and commit to planting a new climate resilient tree at home, in your community, or at your school this spring or fall.

Need some tree planting guidance? Check out these planting guidelines and the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Wizard App to determine what tree best suits your needs.

Water drop © Greg Allison

A Day Older, a Day Water Wiser

Water is a precious resource and our use (or misuse) of water has a direct impacts on our energy footprint. The water we use at home to do laundry, shower, or clean the dishes all impacts how much energy we consume: it takes energy to clean and transport that water, to treat and dispose of wastewater after we are finished with it, and to heat it when needed.

© Greg Allison

These Water Stats May Surprise You

Americans are one of the least conscious water users, and therefore, energy consumers, withdrawing an average of 98 gallons each day. About 60% of that is used indoors for toilets, clothes washers, showers, and faucets. Another 30% is used outdoors for water lawns, gardens, and plants, and the final 10% is lost to leaks in the pipes that deliver water to us.

The EPA estimates that if one out of every hundred U.S. homes switched an older toilet out for new, efficient one, the country would save more than 38 million kilowatt-hours of electricity –that’s roughly enough energy to power 43,000 households for a month.

On top of that, hot water is responsible for about a quarter of residential energy use worldwide and requires a surprising amount of energy. In fact, running hot water out of a facet for five minutes requires about the same energy it takes to burn a 60W incandescent bulb for about 14 hours.

Be Water Wise

The close link between water and energy use means when we enhance efficiency in one category, we are often increasing the sustainable use of the other. Here are a few ways to be water wise.

Install of water efficient appliances, low flush toilets, and efficient washing machines. Look for the WaterSense products, which backed by independent, third-party certification and meet EPA’s speciation for water efficiency and performance.

Cut your average shower time to five minutes and wash only full loads of clothes. Each of these actions can reduce average water use by 7 to 8% per shower or load of laundry.

Capture rainwater to water your garden or lawn, or simply shift to plants that do not require the same amount of water to sustain them.

Pledge to be Water Wise

Commit to being a more conscious water and energy consumer for the good of people and the planet.

Take the Pledge >

© Sarah Houle

Youth Are Calling. Are You Ready to Listen?

We have all heard, and perhaps even been on the receiving end of the “young and naïve” stereotypes. Young and carefree. Young and impressionable. Young and idealistic.  And while all of those adjectives might be accurate, they aren’t stopping youth around the world from calling into question the actions (or lack thereof) of previous generations to address climate change.

This wave of youth activism began last year when 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden began camping outside the Swedish parliament and accused lawmakers of failing to uphold their commitments to fight climate change. Greta and her cohort of activists are clear with their message- we want action and we want it now.

© Sarah Houle

The Voiceless Future

There are more young people in the world than ever before and their commitment to social and environmental justice cannot be ignored. Unlike previous generations, these people have grown up learning about climate change and its impacts, watching as most elected officials have failed to take aggressive action at the scale necessary.

Recently, a group of youth caught the media’s attention when they confronted Senator Diane Feinstein about the Green New Deal. In the Senator’s response, she offered them her pragmatic and perhaps even, realistic perspective: the Green New Deal is an ambitious plan that is unlikely to pass Congress. She also pointed out that the very people making this request were not the ones who voted for her–an accurate assessment since they were under 18 years old.

It begs the question…when you aren’t yet allowed to vote, how do you make your voice heard? How do you protect your future and safeguard yourselves against the greatest impacts of climate change?

Organizing for Climate Action

On March 15, youth around the world are walking out of school to participate in the Youth Strike 4 Climate. With over 1,000 events expected across almost 90 countries, the significance of this movement cannot be ignored.

These youth are coming together to say that they want to live their lives full of hope and excitement, not fear for their future. They are calling upon the world’s decision-makers’ to understand the crisis in front of us and commit to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately.

When it comes to climate change, the deniers–a small but vocal minority–get a lot of attention. However, these young people are telling us to forget the deniers and instead worry about the delayers.

They are the group of people most threatening their future, and there are far more delayers than there are deniers.  Without a doubt, the year 2080 looks bleak for these young people, but the year 2018 didn’t bring much comfort either.

No Matter Your Age–We Must Act

As inspiring as their leadership has been, leaving all of this up to our youth is just irresponsible. They have been forced to fill a void that we adults have left for far too long. It’s time that we each step up and make sure the youngest among us aren’t the only ones raising their voices.

Get engaged and support the young voices that are rising up. Here are just a few ways:

→ Make sure the youth in your community have all the tools they need to tackle this global challenge. That includes ensuring your school district is teaching Massachusetts Science, Technology, and Engineering Standards across K-12 curriculum.  

→ Call your Senator and Representative and tell them that you want bold and swift action on climate change now. Better yet, tell your State legislators that same message. Use the tools at your disposal that many of our youth currently lack–holding the people we voted for accountable to do their job.

→ Join the movement and fight alongside the youth themselves. Find a Youth4Climate Strike near you and support those students by helping to amplify their message.   

Barn swallows © Mark Landman

It’s Time To Talk About Climate Change

Let’s talk about why we need to talk about climate change. Recent surveys from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication show that Americans understanding that climate change is happening and is human caused are at an all-time high. Yet, people are still so hesitant to talk about this important topic for a variety of reasons.

Barn Swallows © Mark Landman

Reason 1: You Think You Don’t Know Enough About The Science

We know most people aren’t climatologists and trying to know all the facts and figures is just overwhelming. However, our lack of confidence has led to a silent culture and that’s a real problem. When 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, we actually don’t need more people getting into the weeds on the data. The scientific consensus is there, and frankly if that was all we needed, this problem would have been solved a long time ago.

What we need are people focused on solutions. As odd as it sounds, scientific data alone doesn’t change people’s minds, but talking about shared values and personal observations can help people connect and understand an issue. The more you are able to tell a story that resonates with your audience, the easier the conversation will be.

Reason 2: You Think Talking About Climate Change Is Depressing

Most of the time, the news on climate change is all doom and gloom and that can cause people to shut down. Not to mention, human beings don’t like change, and what we are seeing today are growing changes that threaten our communities, livelihoods, and natural areas that we love. Constantly delivering bad news is an exhausting position to be in.

BUT! Remember what we said? People need to hear about solutions, not data infused with fear. You can’t scare people into caring. Solutions to this problem do exist and often times lead to many other co-benefits: job creation, improved health, and increased geo-political stability. Those are all good things, so focus your attention there and avoid blaming or shaming people.

Reason 3: You Don’t Like Talking About Politics

There is actually a lot more consensus on climate change than people presume. As we know, the most renowned scientists have been in agreement for a while, as demonstrated through the recent IPCC report. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Americans even know about that overwhelming scientific consensus.

Plus, while liberals are generally more conscious of climate change, there is still bipartisan consensus at all levels of our government. Last November, in Congress, there was bipartisan legislation introduced for the first time in a decade to reduce carbon pollution and spur innovative solutions. At the state and local levels, the examples of bipartisan action are even more prolific. The only way to bring this issue to the forefront of all political debates is by talking about it more often with lots of different people.

Reason 4: You Aren’t Sure You Can Actually Make A Difference With a Problem This Big

Climate change is a global problem with local solutions. The truth is, there are many things you can do to reduce your own carbon footprint, and even help increase policies that lead to more collective action. If you are looking for one thing you can personally do to address climate change after reading this, the answer is probably fairly obvious- talk about it!

By talking about this topic with people you care about, you’re increasing awareness and socially validating climate change as a worthwhile topic. Adding your voice to the conversation, driven by your values (whatever they are), helps people find comfort in numbers.

Ready to Talk?

Follow these tips, and you’re well on your way to a successful conversation:

  • Meet people where they are, not where you think they should be
  • Stay out of the details and focus on solutions
  • Shared connections and values matter- people make decisions with their heads AND their hearts
  • Talk in the present tense- people understand the here and now
  • The goal is to have a conversation, not decide who is right or wrong
  • Be kind and remember you are speaking to another human being

Need more information? Check out these resources:

Sign the Pledge

Take the pledge to talk about climate change and let others know that we have solutions to address this challenge. Sign the pledge >

What’s Your Climate Resolution?

© Courtney Campbell

As we begin making our New Year’s resolutions, tackling climate change needs to be at the top of that list. 

According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record.  Heat waves, extreme rain, hurricanes, and wildfires all made headlines across the U.S. and the globe. It’s evident, the problem is here and now.

In addition, two major reports were release in 2018: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change waved the red flag on the effects of climate change and the Trump Administration released the Fourth National Assessment on Climate Change.

You don’t have to be a climatologist or political leader to make a climate resolution. This year, take the Mass Audubon Climate Change Pledge to address climate change through individual and collective action for the good of people and the planet.

→  STEP 1: Talk to at least  3 people about climate change and help them understand how they can be part of the solution

According to data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70 percent of people in the United States agree that the climate is changing and will cause harm to plants, animals, and humans. But, when asked if people talk about this issue, two-thirds of people in the U.S. say “Never.” This is a real problem. Not talking about climate change fuels the idea that it is a taboo topic, left only to scientists and politicians. It also gives “deniers” a stronger platform.

→ STEP 2: Make adjustments to your daily life by taking 2 individual actions from these carbon-saving categories:

Transportation

  • Carpool or take public transit
  • Walk or bike for shorter trips
  • Upgrade to an electric or hybrid vehicle

Energy

  • Make the Switch to renewable energy
  • Use LED bulbs
  • Turn off and unplug electronics when they are not in use

Food

  • Reduce your food miles by eating local
  • Eat less meat
  • Go vegan! Not able to commit to 100% vegan? Try avoiding meat and dairy one day a week or even twice a month.

Land Protection

  • Plant a native tree
  • Support your local Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary or land trust
  • Advocate for the preservation of local wetlands, forests, and other critical ecosystems that serve as carbon sinks and natural buffers to the effects of climate change.

→ STEP 3: Join or initiate 1 community action to climate change, such as:

  • Encourage your community to purchase sustainable energy through Green Municipal Aggregation.
  • Join a group dedicated to building climate solutions at the local level. 
  • Advocate for changes in your workplace or school that support reducing the organization’s carbon footprint.
  • Support and advocate for policies that will place a price on carbon. 

→ STEP 4: Sign the pledge

Taking a simple pledge increases the likelihood of following through on your goal. In addition, we will be able to see how much of an impact we can all make collectively!

Sign the pledge >

Students Take Action On Climate

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Perhaps no generation is more at risk to the impacts of this issue than those who are in school today. 

In a study presented to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2016, a survey revealed that 40% of Generation Z reported climate change as their top priority. This beat out topics like terrorism, poverty, the economy, and unemployment.

All across the country, we can see examples of youth coming together and calling for action on this global problem, including students in Western Massachusetts. Last month, students from six high schools participated in a Youth Climate Summit hosted by Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment.

Youth participating in the climate summit.

The Summit’s two days of learning sought to empower 50+ high school students, supported by 10 local college students, teachers, and workshop leaders, to take action on climate in their schools and communities.

Presentations and workshops were led by environmental educators, an ecologist, a self-described “bicycle-maniac,” and a hip-hop artist who sings about sustainability and climate action. The workshops focused on topics such as climate change communications, civic engagement, sustainable agriculture, biking, and more.

Creating Youth Leaders

The goal of the summit is not only to educate students about climate change, but also help students realize they can lead their schools, homes, and communities towards effective climate action. Giving students the tools to advocate for real change allows them to recognize the power of their own voices.

One participant noted: “I didn’t really know the best ways to advocate for and participate in climate change prevention, and I feel like I have those skills now.” 

This summit’s impact reached beyond those in attendance. One young student, who read about it in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, was inspired to speak out about the importance of climate action at all levels of government by writing her own letter-to-the-editor.

Learning and Growing

This Youth Climate Summit expanded on last year’s one-day summit, allowing student teams to develop a Climate Action Plan for their school, including direct actions and proposals for addressing climate change drivers and impacts. The Climate Action Plans included a wide range of strategies such as increasing climate education at a younger age, removing bottled water from their school and installing water refill stations, organizing a zero waste week, and even installing an array of solar panels in the school’s parking lot.

Thanks to support from the several local businesses, Northampton Education Foundation, and donations from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (B & E Youth Futures Fund, Edwin P. & Wilbur O. Lepper Fund and Joan Walker Memorial Fund) the summit was able to give $500 to each group for implementation of their Climate Action Plans.

In addition to the fun opportunity to connect with other climate-minded peers, students reported their participation increased their comfort levels with climate change as indicated by pre- and post-surveys. 

Mass Audubon hopes to expand this program by launching similar Summit’s across the state in 2019.

Digging in to the Latest Climate Report

This year, Thanksgiving weekend was filled with more than just food, football, friends, and family. On Black Friday, the Trump Administration released the Fourth National Assessment on Climate Change (NCA4), Volume 2.

The report, authored by a team of more than 300 federal and non-federal climate experts, focuses on climate change impacts, risks, and adaptations occurring in the U.S. It breaks down the variability of climate impacts across 10 regions, including the Northeast, and looks at 18 national topics, with particular focus on observed and projected risks under different mitigation pathways.

Like previous climate research, NCA4 emphasizes what we already know. Climate change is real, human- caused, and happening now. At this point, we also know a certain amount of warming is likely “locked in,” so adaptation strategies are crucial to the health of our ecosystems and communities. Nevertheless, the faster we reduce emissions from fossil fuel-emitting sources, the less risk we will face.

Changes in the Northeast

The Northeast is unique for many reasons. It’s home to diverse landscapes that support numerous industries, tourism, and ecosystems. It’s also considered the most densely populated region, as well as the most heavily forested region in the United States. Quintessential New England is characterized by beautiful coastal beaches, spectacular fall foliage, and a robust winter recreation industry along our snowy mountains.

Climate change is altering this picture.

Here are the top five takeaways from NCA4 for the Northeast region:

  1. Changing Seasons: Expect milder winters and earlier spring conditions in the coming years. These changes will alter forests, wildlife, snowpack, and streamflow, leading to cascading effects for our region’s rural industries. By 2035, the Northeast is projected to be more than 3.6°F warmer on average than during the preindustrial era. This would be the largest temperature increase in the contiguous United States.
  2. Changing Coasts: Our coasts support commerce, tourism, and recreation — serving as critical economic drivers. Warmer ocean temperatures, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are all expected as a result of climate change. Sea level rise in our region is expected to be the highest in the country.
  3. Urban Areas at Risk: The Northeast’s urban centers are important hubs for cultural and economic activity. Northeast cities and towns are threatened by strong and more frequent extreme weather events and sea level rise, leading to negative economic impacts and the need for extensive financial investment.
  4. Human Health Threatened: More extreme weather, warmer temperatures, lower air and water quality, and sea level rise will lead to increased emergency room and hospital visits, additional deaths, and lower quality of life. These impacts will be felt most heavily by our most vulnerable populations including the elderly and low income residents.
  5. Adaptation is Key & Underway: Communities across the region recognize the severity of climate change and are proactively planning and implementing actions that will reduce the risks posed by climate change. In the past, adaptation efforts have emerged at the microscale, but communities are increasingly seeing a need for larger-scale, multi-benefit adaptation projects.

Massachusetts Leading the Way

Recently, legislation was passed at the State House that helps protect public health, public safety, and the economy from the impacts of climate change, and allows communities to more readily adapt to the changes they are already seeing.

And the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program fosters climate adaptation practices at the local level and supports communities’ ability to prioritize actions and create a more resilient future. Learn more about what Massachusetts is doing to address climate adaptation here.

What Can You Do?

You can be part of the solution by reducing your own carbon footprint. The top five actions you can take are:

  • Switch to clean, renewable energy sources. Find out how >
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend in a single-occupied vehicle
  • Alter your diet so you are less reliant on energy-intensive animal products
  • Talk about it! The more we talk about climate change, the more we can build capacity in our community to address the problems we are already facing.
  • Help your community develop plans to adapt to the greatest impacts of climate change via the MVP process, the local planning board, or your conservation commission

The old adage is true: Decisions are made by those who show up. It’s on us to show up and fight for climate action now!

— Alexandra Vecchio, Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator