Category Archives: Climate

You Asked, We Answered – Land, Hemlocks, and Climate Change

Last week, Olivia Barksdale, Mass Audubon’s Conservation Restriction Stewardship Specialist, journeyed into Rutland Brook wildlife sanctuary in Petersham to talk about land, hemlock trees, and climate change.

Photo © Clark University

An Overview of Hemlocks

Hemlock trees are evergreen conifers that are widely distributed across Massachusetts. They’re a long-lived tree, reaching up to 300-350 years old. You can find all sorts of critters thriving near hemlock trees, such as Red Efts (Eastern Newts in the middle stage, the “eft” stage, of their three-part life cycle) and Brook Trout.

Hemlock trees are our natural allies when it comes to adapting to impacts from climate change by buffering increasing storm events, providing shade from extreme heat, and even regulating water temperature and quality.

But these trees also need our help to combat the threats they face because of climate change. Eastern hemlocks are currently under attack by an invasive, sap sucking insect called the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA). Cold, hard winters typically lower the survival rates of HWAs, but climate change-induced milder winters are making more habitats suitable for these voracious bugs. The HWA can take down one ancient hemlock in as few as four years.

How can we Help?

By conserving land! Land conservation provides a wide array of services that help us, wildlife, and plants tackle the climate crisis. Protecting land preserves natural allies in our climate fight like hemlock trees, which not only help us adapt to climate impacts, but also mitigate climate change by soaking up excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We need your help to maximize the climate impact of land conservation – join us in our collective climate fight by supporting one of our current, urgent land projects. You can make a difference.

Here were some questions we received about land, hemlocks, and climate change:

1. How will climate change impact the prevalence of different tree species in our forests?

As temperatures warm, trees can become stressed – which makes them more susceptible to pests that can now find suitable range where they normally wouldn’t. These threatened trees will degrade, which can consequently degrade wildlife habitats. We might also see a “change of guard” as a result, where tree species more tolerant and resilient to climate impacts will emerge or expand in the face of those that are more vulnerable.

2. What is being done to reduce populations of the HWA?

Some universities have looked into different pesticide applications that impact the wooly adelgid’s life cycle, targeting different stages. However, since pesticide use in forest settings or at the scale necessary isn’t the most feasible to tackle our HWA issue, looking at other strategies (like beetles that eat the HWA) will be important as we navigate how to maintain healthy hemlocks in our environments. In fact, Massachusetts has released at least two, Sasajiscymnus tsugae and Laricobius nigrinus (both beetles), to deal with HWAs.

3. How do I get into the land conservation field?

Olivia started her journey through the SCA, or the Student Conservation Association. They place students into internships around the country. Another way to get involved is through state programs, like the Department of Conservation and Recreation, or federal programs like the US Fish and Wildlife Service or US Forest Service. Another way is the Conservation Corps which does fieldwork across the country.

Tune in Next Time

If you didn’t have time to submit your questions, you can ask away in the comments below. We’ll be back the first Friday of every month for Climate Action Instagram AMAs. Visit our Instagram Story in October to learn more and submit your questions for the next round.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for more ways to ask questions, talk about, and learn about climate change, register for our climate café Climate, Community, and Connection on September 29, 5:30-6:30 pm. You can also attend the Climate Change and Human Health virtual webinar  on September 24, 7:00-8:30 pm via the Discovery Museum, where we’ll join Dr. Jay Lemery of the University of Colorado to talk about climate change’s public health impacts.

Looking to Land for Climate Solutions

It’s time to talk about land.

Not just about the diverse habitats, wildlife, and plants undeveloped land contains, but also the myriad of solutions land holds to our environment’s most pressing problem: climate change. When we look to land, we can see natural climate solutions that play an indispensable role in our larger, collective climate fight.

Photo © Diana Chaplin

Two Sides to the Climate Coin: Mitigation and Adaptation

In order to keep our communities and wildlife healthy while striding towards a carbon-neutral future by 2050, we need to both adapt to and mitigate climate change. Land helps us do both.

To adapt to climate change means to contend with its current impacts. Protected land boosts our resilience against these impacts we’re already seeing, right here and now, like extreme weather events and heat. For example, grasslands and farmlands can store significant stormwater from climate change-induced increased rainfall.

To mitigate climate change means to tackle the crisis at its roots. Land is home to natural tools, like trees and wetlands, that soak up carbon dioxide like a sponge, helping us remove rampant greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. Right now, natural solutions are one of the few mitigation strategies that we can immediately and urgently utilize with large impact. Each acre of forest, for example, holds immense value in mitigation efforts by storing about 103 tons of carbon dioxide.

Paired with climate policy like An Act creating a 2050 roadmap to a clean and thriving Commonwealth (H.4912), which includes amended language to require Massachusetts to consider land’s climate impact, conserving land is one of the most tangible and powerful climate solutions in our toolkit.

Helping People and Wildlife Alike

Land provides home and refuge to plants and animals, including rare and threatened species. However, as climate change causes temperatures to rise in Massachusetts and around the world, we’re seeing wildlife forced to shift their habitat ranges to adapt.

Wildlife corridors are connected protected lands that allow plants and animals to move safely and as needed, unimpeded by human development and activity. These movements can be a part of migration, breeding, finding food, and so many more behaviors critical to the survival of our nature. Wildlife corridors are essential to safeguard our plants, animals, and nature’s biodiversity as they adapt to climate change by finding their natural habitat in new locations.

People also benefit from conserved land. Climate change aggravates public health issues, but conserving land can help us counteract some of these effects. The same natural tools that buffer the impacts of climate change and soak up excess greenhouse gas emissions also keep our communities healthy by purifying the air we breathe and the water we drink.

One Piece of the Climate Solutions Puzzle: Land Conservation

To boldly act on climate, we must turn to solutions that we can pursue right now, and conserved land is one piece of the larger, climate solutions puzzle. Mass Audubon is among the largest conservation non-profits in New England, and has conserved more than 38,000 acres of ecologically significant land.

But we need your help to maximize the climate impact of our land conservation. Join us in working towards a carbon neutral future by supporting one of our urgent land projects – you can make a difference in solving the crisis.

You can also join our climate community by signing up for our monthly e-newsletter, Climate Connection, and stay up to date on climate information, community action, and solutions.

Pushing Forward in Spite of Methane Rollbacks

In a big setback for US climate action, the federal government has rolled back requirements for capturing methane pollution. On Friday, August 14, the EPA finalized a rule that lets oil and gas companies off the hook for their methane emissions, replacing a 2016 rule that set limits on these emissions and required companies to monitor and repair leaking equipment.

By shifting our support to renewables like solar energy, we can keep polluting oil and gas companies on the hook in spite of rollbacks.
By shifting our support to renewables like solar energy, we can keep polluting oil and gas companies on the hook in spite of rollbacks.

Methane 101 

Methane (or CH4) is the second most abundant greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Alongside rampant carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, methane wraps around earth like a blanket – trapping heat inside of our atmosphere and causing our world to change.

When we burn fossil fuels, like oil and gas, we release excess greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – methane (CH4) included. The atmosphere wraps around Earth like a blanket (trapping heat inside it) and these excess greenhouse gasses make that blanket too thick, hurting plants, animals, and humans.
When we burn fossil fuels, like oil and gas, we release excess greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – methane (CH4) included. The atmosphere wraps around Earth like a blanket (trapping heat inside it) and these excess greenhouse gasses make that blanket too thick, hurting plants, animals, and humans.

The sources most responsible for methane emissions are the production and transportation of natural gas, oil, and coal; in other words, the fossil fuels we burn for our energy.

But methane also comes from the decomposition of organic material in landfills and livestock farming (such as cattle farmed for beef). Because of the design of their stomach systems, livestock like cows emit methane during digestion. With just how many cows we’re farming for beef and dairy globally, about 1.4 billion, cattle (alongside other grazing livestock) account for 40% of the world’s methane emissions. 

A Cause for Concern 

This recent rollback is especially concerning since methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period – which means its warming impact is far more severe in a shorter period of time. To make matters worse, the regulation change comes at a time when research has found much more methane is likely entering the atmosphere than we previously thought. 

We Can Still Make a Difference 

While the rule is now official, having already gone through a public comment process, it is expected to be challenged in court. In the meantime, we can still have an impact on methane emissions by coming together and acting on climate to safeguard our future for people and wildlife alike. Whether you’re a climate action novice or a seasoned pro, here are ways we can act in spite of this rollback.  

Stage 1: Increase Plant-based Meals and Start Composting 

Switching to plant-based meals helps reduce the demand for livestock farming, one of the sources of our global methane emissions. Photo © Keith Weller, USDA.
Switching to plant-based meals helps reduce the demand for livestock farming, one of the sources of our global methane emissions. Photo © Keith Weller, USDA.

A good way to start tackling methane emissions is to look at how we contribute to them. By switching to plant-based meals and encouraging others to do the same, we’re reducing the demand for livestock farming and lowering our personal carbon footprints. Through composting, we shift decomposing, organic materials from landfills (where they release methane) to a compost pile (where the methane is absorbed). 

It’s even more engaging to get your friends, families, and communities involved. For example, do some research to see if there’s a local composting program in your neighborhood, like the City of Boston’s Project Oscar

Stage 2: Urge your Elected Officials to Support Clean Energy 

Recently, the Massachusetts House passed the 2050 Roadmap bill, which brings us closer to an equitable, clean energy future by 2050. Send your local, elected officials a message thanking them for their support, but also urging them to continue their progress on clean energy policy that reduces our fossil fuel emissions.  

Stage 3: Address the Source of our Energy 

The production and transport of fossil fuels is main source of global methane emissions. While the EPA has reversed regulations holding polluting companies accountable, as a collective we still have the power to keep them on the hook by choosing to shift our support towards renewable energy. 

First, you can make the switch to green-powered energy, like solar or wind energy. If you’ve already switched your household over, you can take your support for renewable energy one step further by ensuring your municipality has a Green Municipal Aggregation program. Visit the Green Energy Consumers Alliance’s website to see if your municipality is already involved and how you can opt-in to this community effort.  

You Asked, We Answered – Climate Action 101

On August 7, Zach D’Arbeloff, Education Coordinator and Camp Director at Blue Hills Trailside Museum took over Mass Audubon’s Instagram story to answer all your questions about climate action! 

We took it back-to-basics this month to discuss what it means to act, who can get involved, and how we can all start collectively acting on climate. 

Here Were the Top Three Most Asked Questions:

Zach D’Arbeloff holding a Barn Owl.

Q: What is the age group most involved in climate action? 

A: Whether you’re 3 or 93, it’s never too early or late to start thinking about climate action. Climate action at its core starts with small lifestyles changes and then builds up to community, collective impact – which adds up to make a big difference.  

For example, you might start out by trying to eat more plant-based meals. Then you might get your family or friends to start eating more plant-based meals with you. After, you might then figure out how you can get your whole community to join you in eating and serving more plant-based meals: perhaps you look towards local schools or restaurants, even! 

Q: What’s the most effective climate action for my neighborhood to take on? 

A: Think about things that start in a neighborhood but expand beyond it. Planting a rain garden in our backyards, making sure we’re refusing and reusing (and then recycling) single-use plastics, and even composting start right at home, but have regional and even global impacts. Engaging our neighborhoods in simple, daily challenges to embark on your journey is a great way to build up your climate action, together. 

Q: What are daily actions I can take to help fight climate change? 

A: Starting out our climate action journeys is all about consistent, daily actions – from driving your car less to eating less meat to even drying your clothes in the sun in the summer. Remember to continue challenging yourself in your climate action, scaling up as you get more comfortable with what you started with, and looking for ways to get the people around you involved. 

It’s Up to Us to Tackle Climate Change 

No matter who we are, we all have a stake in our collective climate fight. The crisis is something we can solve when we put our hearts and minds together, challenge ourselves, and empower each other. Visit our website for ideas on where you can  start. 

Tune in Next Time

If you didn’t have time to submit your questions, you can ask away in the comments below. We’ll be back the first Friday of every month to takeover Mass Audubon’s Instagram and talk about Climate Action. Visit our Instagram Story in September to learn more about land and climate change and submit your questions. See you then! 

Paving the Way Towards an Equitable, Net-Zero Future

Photo © Rishi Jain.

Last week the Massachusetts House passed our priority climate bill, An Act creating a 2050 roadmap to a clean and thriving Commonwealth (H.4912). The bill includes critical language highlighting the role of natural and working lands in reaching net zero emissions, as well as protections for frontline communities. This action brings us one step closer to making an equitable carbon neutral future a reality. Here’s why: 

We Don’t Have to Wait for Technology 

Climate solutions already exist all around us. Take a look outside your window, and you’ll probably see a critical tool that’ll help ensure we can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

That’s right. Nature is an indispensable ally in our collective climate fight. Not only does nature make us more resilient to climate impacts like heat, floods, and droughts, it also can help us prevent some of the worst impacts altogether.  

Forests, farms, and wetlands, for example, soak up rampant carbon dioxide like a sponge – removing excess greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change from our atmosphere. This removal process, along with limiting the burning of fossil fuels, is a climate mitigation strategy: it addresses the crisis at its roots by reducing the net amount of emissions that remain in the atmosphere.  

Climate Mitigation and a Net Zero Carbon Future Go Hand in Hand 

Natural climate solutions are crucial mitigation tools for reaching our 2050 net zero goal. It’s up to us to make sure that we urgently utilize them to tackle climate change.  

As amended, the 2050 Roadmap bill makes natural climate solutions a priority for achieving carbon neutrality statewide. It requires the state to measure the carbon stored by and released from natural and working lands across Massachusetts, and create a plan for increasing those absorption levels while reducing carbon emissions. 

Safeguarding Our Future for People and Wildlife Alike 

The amended 2050 Roadmap bill also formalizes a definition of environmental justice, which will help ensure equitable access to future environmental decision making. Environmental injustices and climate impacts are disproportionately harming low-income communities and communities of color, and the bill establishes long overdue protections to address these disparities.  

We Have a Part to Play in our Collective Climate Fight 

Mass Audubon is dedicated to boldly acting on climate change so that we can protect both our communities and our wildlife. As one of the largest conservation nonprofits in New England, we see the value of nature firsthand every day, especially in solving the climate crisis.  

We’ve been advocating for the 2050 Roadmap bill all session, and we’re excited to see it making progress. Right now, we’re thanking legislators that supported it, and you can, too. Next, the bill will head to a conference committee where we’ll continue pushing for its passage. 

We don’t have time to wait. Our future is one we must work to protect right now – and nature can help us pave the way towards equitable carbon neutrality. 

The Importance of Local Climate Lessons

Climate change can sometimes feel like something happening far away that’ll only reach us in the future. Even more worrying is that Americans are least likely to think they themselves will be harmed by climate change, and over half of Americans say that haven’t personally experienced its effects. 

These findings demonstrate a need to emphasize how the crisis is happening here and now, to our communities and wildlife in our backyards. Place-based education, which uses culture, ecology, landscapes, and tangible experiences to guide our understanding of the world around us, can create that connection, allowing us to visualize these impacts close to home in real-time. 

Nature’s Wisdom Spreads Far and Wide 

We know that moving people to action requires more than just data, we must touch hearts and minds. When we use nature as the conduit for learning about climate change, we contextualize the crisis in places people care about and are familiar with. 

Place-based climate education is a pathway through which we can reach a place of empathy and care to inspire collective climate action. Using nature to visualize climate adaptation and response reaches people of all ages and backgrounds, and this knowledge can even spread to their families and communities. 

Turning Lessons into Action 

Mass Audubon offers various opportunities for place-based education to engage people in both forming connections with the world around them and then acting to protect that very same world in their communities. 

Our climate programs provide people with a space for learning and action. For example, our Youth Climate Summit Program, an immersion in climate action, engages middle-high school aged youth in brainstorming, managing, and implementing a Climate Leadership Project in their own towns and neighborhoods.  

By learning through nature, our communities, and the places we love, we build lasting connections that drive deeper dedication to acting on the climate crisis that threatens their future. 

A Movement for Our Future

I was born in 1994, making me 25 years old.  

In that short amount of time, humans have pumped more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere than any time before. 

This is the present and future I and so many young people were thrown into. Now, it’s become our responsibility to ensure a habitable and healthy planet for us and our children. I care about climate change because a changing climate is all I know.

Andrew Ahern, Community Engagement Coordinator, Mass Audubon Broad Meadow Brook Conservation and Wildlife Sanctuary.

It’s my generation’s future on the line.

I like to say the 21st century is a century of solving global problems at a local level, so no one can claim boredom: there’s too much to do. Young people have been hearing this call, especially in the last four years with the rise of the youth climate strikes, the Green New Deal, and the Sunrise Movement—all of which I have been a part of and have served as catalysts for educating, activating, and inspiring me.

People are always looking for hope and motivation. Climate action can provide that space for young people who haven’t found it yet.

I stay motivated by the climate movement I am a part of.

It’s being part of the movement, surrounded by so many caring, smart, talented, and passionate young people, that keeps me going, engaged, and ready for action. Being part of a movement gave my life purpose and will do the same for many others.

I find hope in strangers and friends alike who stand next to me in marches; who listen to frontline communities about the disproportionate toll climate change takes on them; and who are actively pursuing a world based on justice, democracy, and ecological well-being. You can and will find hope in a movement based on collective community action.

I’m Andrew Ahern, and I’m a Climate Champion.

Over the past ten months I’ve had the privilege of serving as a Terracorps member with Mass Audubon and the Worcester community organizing, educating, and activating people towards climate action.

During this time, I organized over 40 of Worcester’s youth for Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary’s first Youth Climate Summit. I created community spaces for people to learn and talk about climate change through our Climate Café series. I reached over 1,000 unique viewers during digital Earth Day events I organized with the Worcester chapter of the Sunrise Movement. These are just some of my accomplishments during my service term, and I’m thrilled I get to build and continue this work as I enter into a new position with Mass Audubon.

As my work continues with Mass Audubon, climate action only gains importance with each passing year. The need to get off fossil fuels, change our agricultural systems, reduce our consumption habits, and invest in education, healthcare, and renewable energy (all “green” jobs) are initiatives for the future I direct my time and energy into.

I have two pieces of advice for young people: build a better future and repair a broken past.

Begin imagining what a better world will look like for our generation and the following ones. What we lack is not the technological feasibility or even political power, but a shared vision for a better future. Having a vision turns this project into a mass movement.

Show up and get involved. I don’t mean just attending a climate change program or joining a rally, but also supporting those most affected: from disaster relief, to homelessness, to caring for our elders. Climate change puts our most vulnerable in increased danger. They will need help in a warming and sea-rising future and we need to be able to hear the call.

Here’s to the next and most important 10 years of our collective lives!

– Andrew Ahern, Community Engagement Coordinator, Mass Audubon Broad Meadow Brook Conservation and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Nominate your local climate champion by commenting below or sending us an email at climatechange@massaudubon.org. If you’re looking for more ways to engage with Mass Audubon’s climate action work, visit our Instagram Story to ask us all your questions about climate action on Monday, August 3 at 12 pm for our First Friday Climate Action AMA.

There’s more to Summertime than Heat

You can’t miss the telltale sign of summertime: that classic spike in heat. We’re all probably feeling a little sweatier than usual, but the heat is more than just uncomfortable. 

That’s because temperature is directly linked to air quality and our health – and climate change aggravates that link. 

The Basics of Air Pollution 

Ozone is what we more commonly refer to as smog. Particle matter (PM) is a combination of incredibly small solids and liquids in the air that can get trapped in our lungs or bloodstream. Both of these pollution sources are directly associated with increased rates of asthma attacks, heart damage, lung cancer, dementia, and even pregnancy risks. 

State of the Air 

The American Lung Association (ALA) recently released their 2020 “State of the Air” report, which details that nearly half of all Americans live in counties with poor air quality. The report also finds that eight of the Commonwealth’s reporting counties demonstrated more unhealthy days of ozone levels compared to last year’s report. These counties are Barnstable, Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester. 

One of the Culprits is Climate Change 

Sources that spew greenhouse gasses, like cars and power plants, also spit out PM and ozone. As climate change continues to bring higher daily average temperatures, air pollution like ozone increases. In fact, the three years studied in ALA’s most recent report (2016-2018) comprise three out of the five hottest years in the United States, correlating with both climate change’s warming effects and the report’s findings of increased unhealthy days of ozone levels.  

Differences in Impact 

We all don’t feel climate change’s impacts on air quality the same. Certain vulnerable populations, such as people of color (especially Black Americans) and low socioeconomic status communities, have shown to suffer disproportionately from public health impacts like increased air pollution.  

A recent systematic review makes this link even more clear. The review’s research team examined over 32 million U.S. births and found a direct connection between exposure to extreme levels of heat, air pollution, and pregnancy risks like underweight or stillborn babies. But they also found that Black mothers and babies across the country suffered these risks at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.  

Breathe Easy, We Can Help 

Albeit in different ways, climate change affects every one of us. Coming together to fight the crisis means acting to protect our communities, our neighbors, and our most vulnerable populations. Anyone can make a difference, here’s how: 

  1. The EPA is rolling back environmental regulations that protect us, wildlife, and plants by refusing to hold polluting companies responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution accountable. Use your voice to oppose these rollbacks and protect the health of our environment. 
  1. Those who suffer a greater burden from climate change and air pollution tend to be marginalized communities, like people of color. Learn more about climate change and racism and why it’s important to act on climate with equity in mind. 
  1. Take a Climate Pledge to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by yourself or with your friends, family, and community. 
  1. Sign up for our newsletter, Climate Connection, for climate information, action, and community solutions. We’ll send you monthly updates on climate change and how you can make a difference. 

You Asked, We Answered – Climate Change and Cities

Last week, Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Director, Alexandra Vecchio, took over our Instagram story to answer your questions about climate change and cities for our First Friday Climate Action Ask Me Anything (AMA).

Here Were the Top Three Most Asked Questions:

Boston Youth Climate Strike, September 2019.

Q: Does climate change affect cities differently?

A: Yes, because of what lies inside cities. Cities contain a large number of impervious surfaces, which don’t absorb water. These surfaces increase runoff and flooding during storm events.

Cities also experience much warmer temperatures compared to surrounding rural or suburban areas due to increased absorption and retention of heat. Our urban centers house less flora than their suburban and rural counterparts, which turn heat into moisture to “sweat” and keep their environment cool. Paired with dark asphalt, buildings, and other typical urban features, our cities are retaining and creating heat at a higher rate.

Q: How can we use nature in our cities to fight climate change?

A: In my city, Somerville, I love to see street trees, which provide habitat for local wildlife, shade for our communities, and natural climate mitigation. Trees mitigate climate change by soaking up the most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, like a sponge.

As we see increased temperatures in Massachusetts due to climate change, trees are particularly important to shade our homes and reduce the amount of energy we use to keep cool. Trees also help alleviate the urban heat island effect: when parts of our cities are significantly hotter than neighboring suburbs.

Q: I’ve seen a lot of rain gardens around Boston. Can you tell me about the impact they have?

A: Rain gardens, or bioswales, use vegetation to help absorb storm water during heavy rain events, filter out pollutants, and then allow the water to slowly sink back into the soil. They can also provide habitats for local pollinators and wildlife.

This nature-based climate solution improves water quality and reduces flood risks – protecting our homes and businesses. Green infrastructure like this can be found all throughout Massachusetts.

We Can Help

It’s easy to focus on the risk climate change poses to our urban centers, but we encourage you to look around your own city for the many climate solutions in action. You can get involved in a street tree planting initiative like the City of Boston’s program, help care for a nearby community garden, or serve on a local board to advocate for the increased use of nature-based solutions or green infrastructure in your own neighborhood.

You can also visit one of our urban wildlife sanctuaries to see natural, urban climate solutions in action: Boston Nature Center in Mattapan, Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester, and Oak Knoll in Attleboro.

Tune in Next Time

If you didn’t have time to submit your questions, ask them in the comments below or email us at climatechange@massaudubon.org. If you’re looking for another space to ask questions and have judgement-free conversations about climate change until our next AMA, register for our virtual Climate Café on July 16.

Make sure to follow us on Instagram, @MassAudubon, and visit our Story next month on August 3 to ask your questions for our First Friday Climate Action AMA. We’ll see you then!

Climate Action Benefits our Health

We can see climate change’s impacts on the health of our world all around us, right here in Massachusetts. Our friends, families, and neighbors have to adapt (just like wildlife and plants) to new and heightened threats – and one of those is a threat to public health.

Climate change’s warming temperatures influence the spread of disease bearing insects, like the Deer Tick, Ixodes scapularis. Photo © Scott Bauer, USDA/Flickr

Warm, Warmer, Too Hot

Warming temperatures bring with them a rise in extreme heat events, which are linked to an increase in hospital admissions for cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory disorders.

Cities are hit especially hard by extreme heat. Urban areas experience a phenomenon known as “urban heat islands”: when specific parts of cities face significantly higher temperatures than their suburban or rural counterparts.

This heat difference arises because of how well each environment absorbs and holds heat. Suburban or rural areas have abundant plants, grass, trees, and other flora – tools that NASA calls “nature’s air conditioner.” Cities, on the other hand, don’t contain as much flora. Dark asphalt, sidewalks, and buildings that comprise our cities aggravate this problem by actually generating more heat.

An Uptick in Disease-Bearing Ticks (and Others)

Warming temperatures also influence the spread of disease bearing insects. Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Zika virus are all occurring more frequently in the US and are all carried by insects like ticks and mosquitoes. As Massachusetts, warms, these diseases are surviving in and spreading to areas they weren’t able to before.

It’s the Sneezon

Climate change makes springs and summers longer, increasing Massachusetts’ growing season and consequently how long plants produce pollen. Both these byproducts intensify allergy symptoms.

Allergies are only one part of the problem. Burning fossil fuels creates excess greenhouse gasses and pollution, like particle matter (PM), that lowers air quality. Such pollution is directly linked to the development of asthma in young children and worsening asthma symptoms in those already dealing with the illness.

Social Equity in Public Health

Climate change’s disparate impacts are nothing new, and are deeply rooted in history. The very sources that have pumped greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere for years have been overwhelmingly sited near communities of color, especially Black communities. Additionally, urban heat islands tend to map onto almost the exact same locations Black communities were forced into in the 1930s through the formal practice of “redlining.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that marginalized populations bear the brunt of climate change’s public health effects. According to a 2018 study, communities in poverty faced 1.35 times the burden of PM pollution from sources like power plants and cars (also rampant greenhouse gas sources) compared to the overall population, people of color faced 1.28 times the burden, and Black Americans suffered 1.54 times the burden.

Even worse, marginalized communities like people of color tend to have less coverage, access, and use of quality health care. That means already vulnerable communities struggle in obtaining treatment for climate change induced heat-related illnesses, insect-borne diseases, allergies, and asthma.

We Can Fight Climate Change Together

Here’s how we can keep our friends, families, and our most vulnerable populations healthy and safe.

Find and Support a Local, Climate Justice Organization

By supporting a climate justice organization, you support people on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Take a Climate Pledge

Commit to reducing your greenhouse gas emissions by yourself or with your friends, family, or community.

Learn About Environmental Justice

Public health impacts demonstrate that the health of our environment is directly tied to the health of our communities, and some groups are disproportionately affected. Our climate fight must be guided by equity and justice – and we can start acting by learning.

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Each month, we’ll send you climate information, community action, and solutions. Sign up for our newsletter to join our climate action community and help us tackle climate change.