Tag Archives: climate action

On Bug Boxes, Climate Grief, and Human Health 

My connection to nature sparked as a  kid in the eighties. I owned a bug box – my  grandmother’s neighbor made them in bulk and then let the kids on the block decorate them. It was a simple wooden construction with a panel door that swung sideways and up, with fine mesh netting  that let the bugs breathe. I’d catch and inspect all kinds of bugs in there. I especially remember summer nights chasing fireflies, carrying my bug box like a lantern on the lawn of our South St. Louis home as dusk fell, and releasing the fireflies as rogue twinkle lights before I went inside for bed.  

I’m Claire Berman, a nature lover, an author, a health communicator, and an aunt. Each of these roles motivates me to act on climate change.  

Claire Berman, Climate Champion.

As I conducted research for my first novel this year, I learned more about the impact of climate change on birds and other animals. I wanted to write about the way they were being forced to find new homes or change their migration patterns. So I bought a pair of binoculars, made a few birder friends, and became amazed by the herculean task of migration. Yet I was also troubled by the ways human-caused climate change can alter when and where birds migrate because of temperature changes or availability of food.  

In my job as a health communicator, I see firsthand the ways that climate change affects human health in addition to animals. Through this  work, I  have seen communities struggle against intense hurricanes, mosquito- and water-borne illnesses, or displacement from their homes because of climate change. I’ve seen how systemic racism creates conditions that put  people of color and people in poverty  more at risk of respiratory illnesses and other public health threats borne from climate change.  

I’m fighting for the climate on all of these fronts.  

This year, I completed a certificate program in Climate Change and Human Health to learn how we can mitigate, adapt to, and communicate about climate change’s public health impacts. I wrote to my senators in support of the Green New Deal for clean energy and millions of new jobs. I signed up to support the youth-led Sunrise Movement. I phone banked and wrote postcards to get out the vote. I donated to wildlife conservation organizations like Mass Audubon.

Anyone can take actions like these. We can all do our small part to protect the natural world and work towards a safe and healthy future for humanity and all living things.  

Claire’s childhood bug box.

A few months ago, my mom asked if my 8-year-old nephew could have my old bug box. He’d found it buried somewhere in the basement, a bit worse for the wear. I said yes, of course. I want him to find joy in the beauty of nature, just as I did at his age, and I’ll do whatever I can to make sure it survives for his generation of kids and beyond.

Claire Berman, Mass Audubon Member.

Understanding Coastal Climate Vulnerability

Our coasts are home to valuable habitats and beloved species. To protect them from climate change and understand how vulnerable these important regions are, Mass Audubon’s Climate Adaptation Ecologist, Dr. Danielle Perry, PhD, laces up her work boots and jumps headfirst into cordgrass and salt water.

Joppa Flats Education Center © Jorge Galvez

Why Study Vulnerability

When a habitat is vulnerable to climate change, it means that it is at an elevated risk of suffering from climate change’s impacts, like sea level and temperature rise. Analyzing a habitat’s vulnerability is critical to understanding how well equipped it is to withstand these impacts, which then allows us to urgently act to ensure their protection both now and in the future.

Dr. Perry’s initial study is a trial for a series of vulnerability assessments that analyze the resilience of Mass Audubon properties to the various impacts of climate change. These first assessments examined the effects of sea level rise at five properties: Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats, Rough Meadows, Eastern Point, Barnstable Great Marsh, and Wellfleet Bay wildlife sanctuaries.

Breaking Down Methodology

Dr. Danielle Perry, PhD

First, with the expertise of sanctuary staff and other scientists, Dr. Perry assigned the resources within each sanctuary a numerical score based on their value to wildlife, the sanctuary, and surrounding communities. Resources ranged from hard infrastructure (man-made) to natural environments (like salt marsh habitats).

Then, she used data available by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to project the effect that sea level rise will have on these resources by 2030 and 2050.

Finally, Dr. Perry supplemented her projections with real-time field surveys that looked at the current conditions of salt marsh habitats, since salt marshes serve an important role in increasing our resilience to climate change. She observed cues that demonstrated how resilient the habitat currently is, its health, and how easily it could migrate (or move more landward) as sea levels rise.

The Results

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellfleet had stable salt marsh conditions, with some evidence of disturbances like crab burrows that degrade the marsh’s peat. However, this site is projected to be the most impacted by sea level rise out of all five sanctuaries.

Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary in Gloucester showed similar results: a salt marsh with better current conditions than the other sanctuaries, but significant projected sea level rise impact, right after Wellfleet Bay.

Dr. Perry’s boot reveals a low spot in the high marsh – a sign of peat degradation at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Then came Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, one that stood out to Dr. Perry for a completely different reason than the previous two. This site’s current conditions were among the most degraded: with low climate resilience and an ecosystem health score of five (out of 10).

Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Rowley is a little more prepared for sea level rise, with moderate climate resilience and a high landward migration potential. Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Barnstable mirrored this finding, but with even less severe projected sea level rise impacts. This is because most of Barnstable Great Marsh’s infrastructure is located upland, more out of reach of rising tides.

Where We Go From Here

Dr. Perry’s preliminary results, while part of a pilot study, show us that even though all the sites will be affected by sea level rise, each has different levels of resilience. These findings will allow Mass Audubon to prioritize those sites most in need of urgent action. Eventually, we will use this data to inform land use and restoration project decisions at each of the studied locations. Our goal is to increase the resilience of our wildlife sanctuaries and reduce the vulnerability of the surrounding communities.

Leaving the Paris Agreement: What’s Next?

Mass Audubon Ipswich River wildlife sanctuary © Jared Leeds

Born from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 21st summit, the Paris Agreement pledges to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. This agreement was pivotal, demonstrating international dedication to collectively reducing and mitigating the effects of climate change. Since its inception in 2015, about 188 of the attending 197 countries have ratified the agreement

Last week, however, the United States officially became the first country to exit the Paris Agreement. While the withdrawal process began one year ago, the exit became finalized on November 4, 2020. 

Our Role in Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

The reason this withdrawal is so concerning is related to the United States’ enormous contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) – the root cause of climate change and its byproduct, global temperature rise. Between 1850 and 2011, our country was responsible for the largest portion of total greenhouse gas emissions compared to every other nation in the world. Even today, the United States continues to be the second largest GHG emitter worldwide. 

This global nature of GHGs is part of the reason why international collective action is so important. No matter where we are, our combined emissions contribute to the global phenomenon of climate change. Even more significant, just a few nations are responsible for a majority of these emissions, which then impact the entire planet. 

Collective Climate Action Isn’t Over 

Although the US has formally withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, much of the country is still committed to reaching these international targets. 

Including Massachusetts. 

We know that to fight climate change and protect the natural and human communities we love, we have to act boldly and urgently. Massachusetts is dedicated to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This means that statewide, through a combination of reducing emissions and improving nature-based solutions, we, as a state, will not emit more GHGs than what we can soak back up and remove from the atmosphere. 

And here at Mass Audubon, we know when we work together, we can make an impact. 

Where We Go from Here 

There is still an opportunity for the United States to rejoin the Paris Agreement as soon as February 2021. There are also steps that we can all take to keep the momentum going on climate action.  

You can write to your elected official, urging them to continue to support clean, equitable climate legislation. You can make sure your community and local organizations (like schools) are committed to the nation-wide pledge dedicated to achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals. You can support community programs, like green municipal aggregation, which “greens” community electricity supply. You can talk about climate change with your friends and family to inspire hope and dedication to climate action (here’s an upcoming webinar to learn more).  

Use your voice, get active in your community, and inspire the people around you to make change. Our collective climate fight is far from over. 

volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia

Planting a Forest with the Climate in Mind

More than 50 volunteers turned out in the last days of a mild October to help restore a floodplain forest at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton. Together, these nature heroes planted around 1,500 of the 2,000 trees and shrubs going in the ground before winter.

Volunteer planting a tree at Arcadia
Volunteer at Arcadia

In this first phase of the project, 8.5 acres of field that is unproductive for both farming and grassland bird habitat will be turned back into land dominated by trees—including pin oaks, silver maples, and even American elm.  

Floodplain forests are uncommon in Massachusetts, hosting rare plants and wildlife habitat, storing stormwater during floods, and, like all forests, keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. 

But visitors to Arcadia who walk the Fern Trail are lucky to be able to see the large shagbark hickories and tulip trees, that make up one of the best examples of this natural community in the state. The restoration project will significantly expand Arcadia’s protection of this special forest type. 

Climate Implications 

This is a climate adaptation project, preparing us for the impacts that have already begun and will be continuing through the coming years and decades. 

Like all living things, trees have optimal conditions where they grow and reproduce. As temperatures continue to rise because of climate change, tree species’ ideal habitats are shifting northward; however, natural movement rates over generations of trees are generally too slow to keep up with rapid warming.  

This restoration project assists the trees’ northward migration in two ways.  First, for some of the species native to the Connecticut River Valley, saplings are being sourced from nurseries further south so they go into the soil already better adapted to warmer climates.  

Second, volunteers are planting trees that currently don’t occur in the wild in Massachusetts, such as sweet gum, a tree that exists in floodplain forests further south, up to southern Connecticut. These choices increase the likelihood that the forest will flourish in the future, since Massachusetts’s climate is projected to become comparable to the climate of the south between 2070 and 2100.  

The Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration has selected this restoration for Priority Project designation and have been a key partner in the process. Mass Audubon is also partnering with the Nature Conservancy’s Christian Marks, who has planted his Dutch-elm-disease-tolerant American Elms on the site. 

— Jonah Keane, Arcadia’s Sanctuary Director

PV 101: The Power of the Sun

Sunlight has been an important tool for humans for centuries, from tracking time via sundials to starting fires through a magnifying glass. Over a series of discoveries and novel inventions, scientists were able to develop special metal cells that expand what we can use sunlight for by turning it into energy.

Solar panels at Mass Audubon Oak Knoll wildlife sanctuary.

A Brief History Lesson

Photovoltaic cells are what we more commonly call “solar panels,” and you might have already spotted a few on rooftops of homes and commercial buildings. Photovoltaics refers to the technology inside the panels that converts sunlight directly into electricity. When particles of sunlight hit a solar panel, it creates a microscopic reaction that separates electrons from the atoms they reside in. This separation results in an electrical current that we can harness and use.   

Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist, first discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. During an experiment, he noticed that when light struck a metal electrode (a conductor through which electricity travels), it created an electrical voltage.

Then, in 1873, Willoughby Smith, an English electrical engineer, discovered a process to make the chemical element selenium conduct electricity when it absorbs light.

Ten years later, American inventor Charles Fritts constructed the first working solar panel by spreading selenium onto a copper plate and covering it with an extremely thin, semi-transparent layer of gold.

A (Solar) System of Benefits

Currently, people rely on fossil fuels for most of our energy needs. Fossil fuels are finite resources found in the earth, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. If we continue relying on these resources, we will eventually run out of them. Not to mention, continued use means we keep releasing excess greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – the root of climate change. In fact, burning fossil fuels is responsible for 65% of carbon dioxide  in the atmosphere.

Solar energy, on the other hand, is cleaner and limitless. Let’s put solar in perspective: The sun produces more energy a day than the world uses in one year. For example, the energy consumption for the entire planet in 2017 was 17.7 terawatt-year (TWy), compared to the solar energy available per year, which is 23,000.0 TWy.

A Future Powered by Clean Energy

Mass Audubon has committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions as an organization by 2050 – and solar energy is one way we’re accomplishing this goal. In fact, 100% of our energy is renewable – with about 37% being generated on site, and the remaining purchased from green sources. Check out this map to find out if there are photovoltaic arrays at a wildlife sanctuary near you and see how much energy they’re producing.

If the evolution and benefits of solar photovoltaics have inspired you, you can also be part of the solar solution. You can install solar panels, purchase green energy, consider community solar options, or see if your community is participating in Green Municipal Aggregation. If solar development is coming to your community, be sure to read up on our recommendations for solar siting to preserve important habitats and ecosystem services.

— Abdishakur Ahmed, Energy and Climate Change Intern      

A King of a Challenge

King tides flooding Boston on March 10, 2020 via MyCoast, a project by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management.

Ebbing and flowing, tides are a constantly moving part of nature. At high tide, waters creep up the shore, filling salt marshes and covering our beaches. At low tide, we watch the waters pull back, revealing a plethora of exciting marine critters and hidden landscapes to discover.

Royally High Heights

Tides are influenced by the gravitational forces exerted by the moon, sun, and Earth’s rotation. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these are one of the most reliable natural phenomena in our world – even though both high and low tides range in intensity. The highest of all high tides has a very fitting name: the king tide.

King tide” is an informal term that refers to the time (once or twice a year) when tides reach exceptionally high levels. These king tides occur in conjunction with new moons and full moons when the Earth is closest to the moon.

What we “Sea” in the Tides

We know that climate change impacts are happening here and now, and will only become more severe in the future. One we can see right now is sea level rise. We already experience sea level rise impacts through increased coastal flooding, extreme storm surges, beach erosion, and indicators like the presence of flood-tolerant flora (such as cordgrass) in high salt marsh areas. King tides are a way to help us understand and adapt to this threat.

That’s because while king tides are a purely natural phenomenon, they actually allow us to visualize what normal high tides will look like by 2050 if we continue to burn fossil fuels and release greenhouse gas emissions at the rate we are currently. King tides, even just bi-annually, can lead to coastal erosion and flooding, which puts shoreline communities at risk. These highest tides serve as a reminder that we must urgently act to both adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Calling All Community Scientists

That’s where you come in! We need all hands on deck to document king tides. Community photographs help scientists analyze coastal vulnerability to flooding and prepare ways for us to adapt to climate change.

So grab your camera, and find out when and where your nearest king tide will be this month, which are expected to be between 11 and 13 feet. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before the listed time as local conditions may vary. Once you’ve snapped a photo, submit them to the King Tides Project at MyCoast for this climate science initiative.

But don’t stop there! Save your photos to share with us on Facebook or via email.

Remember, safety first – visit MyCoast for tips and tricks on how to stay safe and still snag the best photo.

Find a King Tide Near You

Check out our map and list of king tide locations in Massachusetts along with their date and time to see if there’s a photo-opportunity near you. If you don’t see your community’s coast on our map, it means while you will be experiencing high tides, you won’t be seeing king tides.

Stay tuned on our social media pages for details on future king tides, including dates, times, and locations.

Download our maps here:

The Message in our Forecasts

There are not-so-hidden messages in the weather and storm trends we’ve been seeing. What does it mean when our winters are shorter and milder or when we experience an increase in storm-induced flooding?

It means our climate is changing.

Flooding in Downtown Boston © Matt Beaton, Former Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Climate Versus Weather

While weather refers to short-term changes to the atmosphere, climate encompasses long-term trends and patterns – such as average temperatures. Climate change, therefore, is the lasting shift in long-term patterns because of the excess greenhouse gasses we release into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.

Shifting Seasons

Massachusetts, along with the rest of the world, is gradually getting warmer on average, and rising temperatures affect the intensity and duration of our four seasons. Spring temperatures arrive sooner than they have before, hotter summers last much longer, and winters tend to be milder and shorter.

These shifts are evidenced by their impacts on the nature around us. You might have noticed your favorite buds and blossoms sprout earlier every year. Perhaps you’ve seen your favorite birds breed or migrate sooner. You might have even noticed a decline in populations facing new threats because of shifting seasons: like bees that missed early blossoms or moose that struggle under the now thriving winter tick.

Weather Weirding & Temperature Extremes

These weather-based impacts aren’t only about the gradual and consistent changes. They also comprise temperature snaps – sometimes referred to as “weather weirding.” Such snaps are characterized by abnormally cold (or hot) temperatures compared to what the average temperature should be: like a freezing cold day in the middle of spring, or an incredibly warm day towards the end of winter.

Dr. Greg Skomal, Senior Fisheries Scientist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, explained that it was most likely cold snaps that led four thresher sharks to strand in Wellfleet and Orleans in 2018 as they tried to move towards warmer waters at a much faster pace than normal.

Surges in Storms

As temperatures increase, so too does evaporation of moisture and water – so while our summers are getting really hot, they’re also getting really dry, which can lead to long summer droughts. But this extra-evaporating effect has a flip side. All the additional moisture gets sent into the atmosphere, which increases precipitation (rainfall, snow, sleet, or hail).

In tandem with sea level rise, we’re watching extreme weather events, storm surges, and significant flooding rise in frequency and intensity around us because of an increase in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere and changes in sea-surface temperatures.

Nantasket Beach flooding during Hurricane Sandy © Jeff Cutler, Flickr.

Forecasting Hope

Whether you live on the coast, in the city, or amidst our region’s forests, weather and storms impact all of us and the nature around us. While something as intangible as atmospheric changes might seem near-impossible to tackle, we have good news: you can make a difference.

Here are some ways you can join us in fighting climate change to protect our world:

Look to nature for climate solutions.

Nature can be our first line of defense when it comes to buffering extreme storms and helping us, and the wildlife we love, adapt to climate change. Support one of our urgent, regional land projects to protect these important, natural climate allies.

Take a climate pledge to mitigate climate change.

Climate mitigation tackles the crisis at its roots: the greenhouse gasses we emit. Remember to challenge your friends, family, and community to take these pledges with you – we can make a difference when we work together.

Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, Climate Connection.

Every month, we’ll send you updates on climate information, action, community solutions, and how you can have an impact.

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.