Category Archives: Climate

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 >

Unexpected Optimism on the Paris Agreement

Many that work on climate change issues, including myself, are finding themselves bizarrely optimistic after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. Just to be clear, it’s a terrible decision. There’s no practical benefit. It will cost the U.S. jobs in the renewable energy sector, and it sends a horrible message to the world that the U.S. doesn’t care about responsibly managing our planet for future generations.

But that being said, the overwhelming, unified backlash has been incredibly encouraging. Representatives from both major political parties, including Governor Baker, have voiced support for the Paris Agreement, and every commercial sector you can think of, from oil companies to investment banks to coffee shops, is opting to follow the accord of their own initiative.

By getting out, we may have gotten farther in

The very day that Trump made his announcement, 12 states and Puerto Rico began joining the United States Climate Alliance, a group of states and territories vowing to uphold the Paris Agreement. Proudly, Massachusetts became a member of the Alliance after Governor Baker saw an undeniable surge of public interest. (Thanks to all who called his office!) Ten additional states and D.C. have pledged follow the Paris Agreement without formally joining the Alliance, and more than 300 U.S. cities representing more than 61 million Americans will honor the accord.

In parallel, the “We Are Still In” (#WeAreStillin) coalition of government officials, mayors, investors, universities, represents 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy, all pledging to follow the agreement.

In some critical ways, this local, state, and public phalanx of support for the Paris Agreement is a far stronger, bolder step toward progress than what any U.S. President could recommend. We are witnessing an inspiring movement of local and state officials taking ownership of their own jurisdictions’ carbon emissions. These are people that have real agency to reduce emissions expeditiously for an enormous percentage of the U.S. population, and they have actively decided to make a difference. They’ll protect the planet of their own will, rather than let a president tell them to.

What’s more, people from all walks of life are discussing what we should do about climate change and why reducing emissions is so important to limit future warming. The science is clear and more people are now paying attention to the consequences of burning fossil fuels.

It’s up to us now

It is often said that climate change is a global problem with local solutions. That’s true, and President Trump’s move to surrender U.S. leadership has put the rest of us in the driver’s seat. We have the power to reduce our carbon emissions as individuals, as communities, as states, and as people on one planet. It’s up to us now. It’s more important than ever to protect nature for people and wildlife in face of climate change.

What we can do

There a few things we can do as individuals and active citizens that really make a difference and honor the spirit of the Paris Agreement.

As individuals, we can Make the Switch and choose to get our electricity from renewable sources.

As citizens we can tell our community leaders to get energy from sustainable sources at the municipal scale. The town of Arlington recently became a leader as other towns can, by taking advantage of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). Essentially, CCA is a way for communities to source their own energy and lower electric bills at the same time.

There are many options for keeping carbon out of the atmosphere and keeping the places we live healthy. Talk to your own community leaders and see how you can help make your community a green community!

Want to Make a Difference? Learn How from Young Leaders

Mass Audubon is partnering with Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN) to show a selection of uplifting short films from the Young Voices for the Planet film series. These films document youth speaking out, creating solutions, and inspiring actions including:

  • Florida students saved their school $53,000 in energy costs
  • An 11-year-old German boy planted millions of trees
  • Three local stars from Lexington, MA changed laws to allow for more solar power

Four short films will be followed by conversation with the Lexington stars of “Save Tomorrow”. Admission is free and open to the public.

MCAN Climate Movie Night schedule:

There are THREE showings!

May 3: Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, 208 S Great Rd, Lincoln, MA 01773 »

May 8: Boston Nature Center, 500 Walk Hill St, Mattapan, MA »

May 10: Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, 280 Eliot Street, Natick, MA 01760 » 

See you there!

 

Recommendations For Planting Have Changed

If you’re looking to avoid freeze damage in your garden, the recommendations for what you should plant have changed over the last 25 years.

Plant hardiness zones are recommendations for planting based on the risk of extreme cold in a given region. Some plants and trees are more resilient to cold snaps than others, and different plant types are categorized by different zones. Warmer zones, for plants less hardy to deep freezes, are typically found farther south, as you’d expect. Zones prone to harsh cold snaps are typically found farther north.

As USDA and Arbor Day Foundation revisited the data over time, they found the risk of extreme cold snaps had lessened across much of the country. From 1990 through 2015, as you can see in the following images, the recommended zones shifted noticeably northward. That means planting recommendations have changed. Plant types best suited for areas farther south in the past may now be viable farther north.

Plant Hardiness Zones, 1990 and 2015. Images from USDA and Arbor Day Foundation.

New England Peanuts?

At Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, our staff had some fun with this last season. They were able to grow cotton and peanuts, crops typically found much farther south. Others pointed out that they’ve been planting their own gardens earlier and earlier over the years. Many noted that they start their tomatoes 2 weeks earlier than they once did.

Climate Connection

Is the shift in plant hardiness zones evidence of climate change? Probably. It fits with other temperature trends we’re seeing. Our growing season is longer than it used to be. Our winters are shorter. Overnight low temperatures have warmed. It’s also consistent with what climate models tell us will happen. Warming temperatures tilt the scales away from extreme cold snaps and toward record heat waves, even though those cold snaps still occur.

Of course, we should temper our expectations. This is just one piece of evidence among many other pieces of evidence. The Northeast still faces the risk deep freeze in the late winter and early spring. The risk is just less than it used to be. It’s entirely possible next year could be brutally cold even as our climate warms, and local factors are still critical.

The More You Know

According to Drumlin Farm’s Crops Manager, Matt Celona, knowing your micro-climate is important. “Lincoln is in a frost pocket and is more like Southern New Hampshire than surrounding towns,” he said. “We still expect frost in the last week of September or first week of October, and we don’t consider ourselves out of frost danger until the first week of June. So while temperatures are warmer in general, the killing frosts do still occur as they did in the old hardiness zone windows. Erratic swings in temperature are, for now, making it harder, not easier, to farm in Lincoln.”

As always, consider plant hardiness zones a guide, another small piece of advice when making decisions about the unique circumstances of your own growing. Over time, changing zones can help us think about what we might grow instead of what we’ve been growing. They may also help us adjust the timing of our planting to suit a changing growing season. You can learn more about plant hardiness zones here and here.