Category Archives: Climate

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

A Closer Look at New Climate Report

A new special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is waving a red flag on the effects of climate change. This report, written by over 90 scientists from 40 countries, warns that we need to make large-scale and rapid changes.

Scientists say we must limit average global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C (2.7°F). This temperature increase is considered the “tipping point” for many of the most severe threats posed by climate change. It is also an ambitious target given our current rising temperatures.

So far, average global temperatures have warmed about 1°C (1.8°F) since pre-industrial times (the second half of the 19th Century). According to the IPCC, without accelerated action, the planet will reach the 1.5°C threshold as early as 2030. This temperature increase would escalate the risk of extreme drought, floods, wildfires, and food shortages, impacting tens of millions of people.

Small Change, Big Impact

While half a degree difference might not sound like much, that shift will have devastating effects on our plants and animals, coral reefs, Arctic summer sea ice, and water availability. Every bit of warming matters, with higher temperature changes leading to increased risk of long-lasting or irreversible changes.

The warning is clear, but we still have a chance to put into place the “disruptive innovation” needed to change course if we act now.

You Can Be Part of the Solution

Global climate change must be addressed through both effective state and federal policy and our own individual actions. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and switching to clean, renewable energy sources, we can mitigate the worst effects of climate change before it is too late.

Our personal choices in areas like home energy use, travel methods, altering our diet to be less reliant on land- and energy-intensive animal products, and developing smart, green infrastructure throughout our communities can all contribute to a global shift in the right direction.

Here are a few ways you can make a difference:

There will also be an opportunity soon to oppose recent federal proposals to weaken emissions standards for methane—we’ll keep you posted!

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

Grass at Drumlin

Switching to Electric Landscape Equipment

Imagine a summer without the growl of gasoline-powered motors, the whine of weed whackers, and the fumes of spent gasoline. Mass Audubon is taking steps to make this a reality by replacing gasoline-powered landscaping equipment with electric versions.

Grass at Drumlin

The move is part of a larger Mass Audubon strategy to green the grid by reducing fossil fuel use and adding more renewable electricity. Electric lawn equipment is one way we can make Massachusetts more pleasant while getting our yard work done and fighting climate change.

Benefits of Going Electric

1. Better Quality

In the past, electric landscape equipment was either more expensive to own or less practical than gas-powered equipment, but with improved battery technology and better designs, electric models are now coveted as top-of-the-line.

2. Fewer Moving Parts

This means fewer points of friction in the motor, require few or no fluids, no oil changes, and as such are generally more reliable than gas-powered models.

3. Safer

Electric options tend to have better safety features and don’t require storing gasoline nearby, eliminating a potential fire hazard.

4. Quieter

An electric push mower or weed whacker is about as loud as a hair dryer. Keeping the noise down is good for our neighbors and for nearby wildlife.

As electric equipment technology continues to improve, it will be able to replace more gas-powered equipment in more situations for more functions. We’re excited to make the transition to electric, and it’s something homeowners and other organizations can do as well.

Be a Garden Hero: Grow Sustainably

Gardeners are well-suited to help fight climate change, but sustainable gardening requires putting aside some traditional practices that work against nature.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to create a beautiful, natural, and functional landscapes that benefit the environment and our senses. Gardening sustainably also reduces the cost and labor required.

Purple Coneflower is a great climate-friendly addition to your garden.

Lawns are a Yawn

Over the country, our lawns add up to about 31 million acres, an area slightly larger than Mississippi. The cost of all that manicured grass is huge. According to the NRDC, Americans consume 3 trillion gallons just to water our residential lawns (about half the volume of Lake Champlain), 200 million gallons of gas to power our lawn equipment, and 70 million pounds of pesticides every year. On top of the ecological burden, lawns deprive birds and other wildlife of useful habitat and food, creating areas with little environmental value.

Instead of keeping large, open lawns, turn your yard into miniature sanctuaries for birds and pollinators.  For species feeling other stresses from climate change or loss of habitat, having a backyard stop to rest and refuel can support them when they need it most.

Plant Native Species

Choose native plants whenever possible. They help grow far more insects and provide better resources for birds and pollinators. Since native plants are adapted to a New England climate, they’ll also require less protection and effort to maintain. In Massachusetts, butterfly bushes and purple coneflowers are a couple excellent choices among many. Find some great native options.

Avoid Nitrogen Fertilizer

Producing and transporting fertilizers that include urea and ammonium nitrate, which are common in inexpensive home lawn care fertilizers, requires a lot of energy. Four to six pounds of carbon are emitted for every pound produced, so even modest use increases a garden’s carbon footprint. Overusing fertilizers (a common mistake) releases nitrous oxide, which has 300 hundred times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and makes a garden’s carbon footprint excessive.

With stronger, more frequent storms, we’re also seeing more nitrogen-loaded runoff in waterways. The buildup contributes to harmful algae blooms and toxic dead zones. Avoiding the use of such fertilizers helps offset the impact of stronger storms due to climate change.

Replace nitrogen fertilizers with manure or locally-produced compost sparingly and strategically.

Plant Trees

Trees or other woody plants help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so plant as much of your property with trees and rigid shrubs as possible.

Placing trees, shrubs, and vines to block winter winds and create summer shade can reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool your home. Red Oaks, Red Maples, and Dogwoods are good native choices that should remain resilient to changing climate conditions over the next few decades.

Save the Rain

Gardens filled with native plants will generally thrive with normal amounts of rainwater, saving the time, energy, and water of irrigation. When you need more than what the weather is providing, or at different times, collect and store water with rain barrels, or sculpt your land to drain to areas where you want the water to go slowly and effectively, using what you receive as efficiently as possible.

Grow Your Own Food

Growing fruits and vegetables at home reduces your carbon footprint. It’s the ideal way to “eat local.” It eliminates the fuel needed to transport, store, and process food elsewhere. Grow plants from seed and make your food garden as diverse as possible, while mixing perennials with annuals. Berries are a great perennial option, as is rhubarb. Asparagus, grown commercially actually has a high carbon footprint, so growing your own can be a big help. Kale and garlic are good to grow as annuals.

Trade in Gas-powered Equipment

Reduce usage of gas-powered equipment like mowers, weed whackers, and leaf blowers as much as possible. Your neighbors will love you for it and you’ll be keeping carbon out of the air. When you can, use manual equipment: rakes, reel mowers, and shears. When necessary, use electrical equipment.

Plug In At Habitat

Habitat Education Center in Belmont has a new Electric Vehicle Charging Station, the second at a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary (Joppa Flats in Newburyport has the other). Electric Vehicles (EVs) are great tool for fighting climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles.

We simply need more of them on the road and more places to recharge. Adding charging stations at our sanctuaries is just one of steps Mass Audubon is taking to lead by example. Here’s why:

 

EVs are Better for the Environment

Even when charged by electricity generated from coal, EVs are responsible for fewer heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. In Massachusetts, they are better still, since our electricity comes from greener sources.

At Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries, all of our electricity is either generated by our own solar panels or purchased from renewable sources, so charging your EV at Habitat is about as clean as it gets.

EVs Cost Less

EVs are cheaper to own over the lifetime of the vehicle, since they require less maintenance, include fewer moving parts, and are by many assessments more reliable.

Getting More EVs on the Road

There are two primary reasons there aren’t more EVs on the road right now. The first is EVs cost more up front. In Massachusetts, there are a number of incentives that can reduce the purchase price to less than that of a comparable gasoline-powered car for a private buyer.

The second barrier to EV ownership is a lack of charging stations. Businesses and organizations are hesitant to install charging stations without a steady stream of EVs to use them, but drivers are hesitant to buy EVs until there are more charging stations to recharge. Something needs to break the cycle, and that’s one reason why Habitat and other sanctuaries are looking into installing charging stations.

Thanks for Generous Support!

Donations from the following people covered the cost of the actual charging station:

  • Alan K. and Isabelle DerKazarian Foundation
  • Belmont Savings Bank
  • Sue and Henry Bass
  • John Goodhue and Ann Smith
  • Jane and Jim Levitt

Belmont Municipal Electric Department installed electric service for the station free of charge!

Where to Find It

The charging station is located at the edge of the Habitat parking lot near Juniper Road. Sanctuary Director Roger Wrubel, who drives and EV himself, wants to inspire others to use the charging station, so there is currently no fee for visitors that recharge.

Inspiring Action, One Video at a Time

As one of Mass Audubon’s designated Climate Action Centers, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary has a goal of increasing people’s understanding of how climate change will impact us locally and inspire action.

One strategy to accomplish this goal is to engage college students studying in the Pioneer Valley via a Climate Video Contest. Students were asked to create short videos to help educate and inspire action, and the winner would receive a $1,000 prize, generously sponsored by Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company.

There were many great submissions, but the video that took first place was one by Emelyn Chiang, a sophomore majoring in Engineering at Smith College.

We also want to congratulate Claire Seaman and Rebecca Grossman for their video, which came in second place.


Learn more about how Mass Audubon is leading by example and what you can do to make an impact.

Volunteers planting a tree

This Earth Day, Be a Tree Hero

Tress are one of the best resources we have for fighting climate change. They help us manage the unavoidable effects of a warming world and help us avoid the unmanageable.

Trees

As we continue to see more dangerous heat waves, trees provide shade and cool relief. As storms grow stronger and more frequent, trees break the wind, soak up tremendous amounts of stormwater, and reduce erosion. Trees also slow climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in the trees and soil, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

The value of trees goes far beyond fighting climate change. They provide habitat and food for wildlife. They improve air quality by filtering pollutants. Neighborhoods with more trees experience less crime. They make communities more pleasant, and they increase the value of nearby homes. People go to great lengths to keep living and working near beautiful trees and forests, helping build neighborhood connections as people continue to live near each other for longer.

Whether you live in your own home or rent an apartment, you can be a steward of trees. Here’s how:

Volunteers Planting a Tree

Plant Trees

Whenever you can, plant native trees that grow to be large and store carbon faster. Sweetgum, tulip poplar, oaks, and maples are good examples. If you own your own home and yard, plant trees especially on the west and southwest sides of your home where they can provide shade during the hottest time of day. If you live in an urban area, see what neighborhood groups plant trees and give them a hand.

Adopt Trees

Trees provide greater benefits as they mature and grow, so it’s important to help young trees survive through the first 3-5 years.

Especially during prolonged dry periods, help keep trees healthy by giving them a bucket of water in the evening. Living trees store carbon for a long time, but dead rotting wood releases carbon back into the atmosphere. Therefore, start with longer-lived trees, which hold their carbon longer, and native species, which are well adapted to local conditions.

Reduce Fossil Fuel Use in Tree Maintenance

If you’re already the proud owner or steward of trees, care for them with old-fashioned elbow grease. Gas-powered leaf blowers, mowers, and wood chippers, release carbon dioxide and pollutants, that offset some of the benefits provided by trees.

A Gift to Future Generations

Much of New England has been blessed with the foresight of our grandparents and their grandparents before them to re-establish trees and protect the landscape in perpetuity. We too can continue that New England tradition, and ensure that our grandchildren know the joy of playing beneath sprawling branches on a healthy planet.