Category Archives: Climate

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.

Ground Truthing the Groundhog

On February 2 at Drumlin Farm, the official groundhog of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Ms. G, looks for her shadow. This year, Ms. G saw her shadow, which, according to the folklore, means we’re in for 6 more weeks of winter.

But any skepticism you have about her methodology is justified. It turns out groundhogs aren’t any better than coin flips at predicting weather.

If Ms. G looked at winter temperature trends over the last 30 years, she might want to reconsider her forecast. If we define the onset of spring by the “first leaf” date of a number of different plants, spring has been arriving earlier and earlier across the United States, and more than 5 days earlier across most of Massachusetts.

First leaf dates are one indicator of many. Late winter and spring temperatures are rising. Many birds are migrating sooner, and some mammals are shedding their winter coats earlier. Long-time gardeners in Massachusetts consistently tell stories of being able to grow things they once couldn’t. All these changes could disrupt the ecological balance that has been in place for hundreds or thousands of years.

We can help alleviate some of the stresses plants, wildlife, and pollinators will face due to changes in climate by protecting natural spaces in our own communities, and by planting native, flowering plants in our gardens.

For what it’s worth, the expert “groundhogs” at the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center are projecting a slightly warmer and potentially wetter February-March-April than normal. We’ll have to see which forecast holds true.

Wellfleet Bay

Speak Up On Climate Change Legislation

A key climate change preparedness bill is being discussed in the Massachusetts House this week and it needs your support. The Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan (CAMP) will:

  • Help protect people and wildlife from climate change
  • Safeguard our infrastructure
  • Set an example of responsible climate action for the rest of the country to follow

Take action by calling your state representative in the House and tell them to support CAMP (HB2147).

Why Support CAMP?

Climate change is already affecting Massachusetts. Many of our communities are unprepared for rising seas, stronger storms, more dangerous heat waves, and myriad other challenges. CAMP would help them prepare.

CAMP will require the state to identify our people and places that are most vulnerable. It will help us prepare for a greater risk of natural disasters. It will establish new ways for municipalities to prosper in the face of climate change, and will encourage communities to work with willing landowners to reclaim and protect threatened areas.

The Massachusetts Senate has already passed the CAMP bill, the first of its kind in the United States, and it’s time for the Massachusetts House to do the same.

Call your state representative and tell them to send the rest of the country a powerful message that Massachusetts intends lead in the fight against climate change.

 

HQ Goes Solar

It was something that we have wanted for a long time. Many of our wildlife sanctuaries already have them. And yet, our headquarters didn’t. But, now, we are happy to share that we have a new photovoltaic (PV) solar array up and running at our central offices in Lincoln.

As a leading conservation organization, it’s imperative that our power come from renewable energy. We generate more than 37% of own our electricity needs with PV arrays. We purchase the rest in renewable energy credits through the nonprofit Mass Energy. Our hope, though, is to continue growing what we generate on our own and reduce the number of credits we buy, freeing up more renewable energy on the grid for others to use.

The HQ array is another step in the right direction. A former estate donated to Mass Audubon in the 1955, our headquarters consists of five buildings. Staff across the campus already make every effort to reduce our footprint—we use energy efficient LED lights and equipment, and receive regular reminders to turn off lights and computers when not in use—but this new array will have, by far, the biggest impact.

Since it was turned on in November, it has already generated more than 4,600 kilowatt hours (kWh) of clean electricity, slightly more than we expected. On December 28, one of shortest days of the year, it generated about 1/4 of the electricity an average home consumes in a month!

See how much power this array is generating and learn more about Mass Audubon’s efforts to reduce our impact.

Slide to See it Go from Frame to Finish

Western Massachusetts Youth Climate Summit / Phil Doyle

Thankful For Young Climate Leaders

As we head into Thanksgiving during this tumultuous political era, I find myself reflecting back on the challenges and progress of the past year, both close to home and around the globe. It’s easy to get discouraged by the nightly news, but something that continues to inspire me is the vision of young people.

Western Massachusetts Youth Climate Summit / Phil Doyle

As Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator, I had the privilege of meeting Alice and Mari, two of the three girls that successfully lobbied Lexington to change its bylaws to allow for more solar energy, protected a local tract of forest, and helped convince their school to put solar panels on the roof. They spoke with the poise of many adults, but are still years away from driving.

I also helped out with a casual gathering known as a “climate café,” in which kids ages 6-11 expressed imaginative, fearless ideas of how to address climate change while wondering why the grown-ups had yet to solve such an obvious problem.

And last week, I watched the Western Massachusetts Youth Climate Summit unfold at the Hitchcock Center and Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. Area high school students learned about real-world sustainability practices, the value of natural ecosystems in fighting climate change, and they heard from other young climate leaders at COP23 in Bonn, Germany via Skype. Never was there a question of what should we do, only how can we do it.

Younger Americans are far more likely to believe that climate change is real and driven primarily by our burning of fossil fuels. They are also more likely to support actions to address climate change. For those coming of age now, future projections of sea level rise and extreme heat at the end of the century are not an abstract future–they will live to see the consequences of our collective action.

As we head into Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for young people, their clarity of thought, and their ambition. Let’s make sure they inherit a world that allows them to rise to their potential.

— Daniel Brown

Yes, There Are More Storms. Here’s Why

Eastern Massachusetts has been getting a serious dose of rain.

© Alison Borrelli

On July 12, Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, recorded about an inch of rain in a mere 7 minutes, and 2.44″ in 35 minutes. The average total precipitation for July is usually around 2.5 inches.

For Bedford, the 200-year storm is 2.33 inches in 30 minutes. (A 200-year storm is a storm so big it only has a 0.5% chance of occurring in a given year.) But, we may see more of them in the future.

Very heavy precipitation events like this are becoming more severe and more frequent, especially in the Northeast. From 1958 through 2012, the amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest 1% of precipitation events increased by 71% in the Northeast.

It may be counter intuitive, but as our climate becomes warmer, we face a greater risk from stronger storms. With more heat, we have more evaporation and more energy to carry the moisture aloft where it can power big thunderstorms.

So, it’s not our imagination.

We are seeing more heavy downpours than in the past, and that trend is likely to continue into the future. That could have serious implications for how we prepare for storms.

The infrastructure we have in place to deal with all that stormwater is based on the general idea that the sizes of storms we see over time doesn’t change. Climate change has blown up that idea.

We may see 200-year storms roll around every 50 years or so, and our infrastructure will need to handle multiple storms larger than it’s currently designed to manage. But simply replacing infrastructure with newer versions designed for larger storms may also become obsolete in the future as the climate continues to change.

We need to prepare for things to keep changing. We need to be dynamic and adaptable.

That’s a difficult challenge to solve, but one the best ways to make the landscape as resilient and flexible as possible is to preserve open space and let nature take care of itself. Low-impact Development (LID) is one green infrastructure approach to do just do that.

Green infrastructure can also help deal with droughts like the one we went through last year. Natural spaces not only soak up excess water, but also allow water to makes its way back into the ground. That keeps streams and waterways in a healthy balance for both habitat and drinking water supplies.

Encourage your own community to follow LID practices and prepare for a constantly changing future. Learn more >