Tag Archives: climate change

Climate Action in Times of Social Distancing

We all know what it’s like to be stuck at home, socially distancing during COVID-19. There are only so many times you can binge your favorite show on Netflix or read your favorite book before you might start to feel a bit disconnected from the world.

If you’re feeling like this, we have good news. One of the ways Mass Audubon is celebrating Earth Day, April 22, COVID-19 edition, is by participating as a team in the month-long 2020 Drawdown Ecochallenge. The Drawdown Ecochallenge is a global competition that consists of a set of actions aimed at tackling our collective climate footprint to fight climate change.

With a dash of friendly competition, this Ecochallenge allows you to select certain actions, ranging in difficulty and frequency, that will help reduce the amount of carbon you emit. Each action you take contributes points towards the Mass Audubon team and allows you to gauge your impact real-time throughout the challenge.

The Ecochallenge allows us to still come together digitally as a community and stay connected with what’s happening to the environment around us. With plenty of actions we can complete while socially distancing, the Ecochallenge is just one of the ways we can celebrate Earth Week while keeping our communities safe and healthy.

Whether it’s taking a much needed, daily walk to check out the infrastructure of your neighborhood or doing some research on what makes seafood sustainable, the Drawdown Ecochallenge can bring us together to celebrate Earth Day’s 2020 theme, Climate Action, as a digital community and keep engaging with our environment in safe ways.

The challenge begins on April 1 and lasts until the end of the month, April 30. Join Mass Audubon’s team and get ready to tackle climate change together! Tag @MassAudubon in your #Ecochallenge photos for a chance to be shared on our social media platforms.

A Greener Way to Fly

Reducing or avoiding air travel is one of the most effective steps we can take as individuals to combat climate change. But, it’s not the most realistic proposition for many of us.

Through a new initiative called Jet-Set Offset, when you can’t reduce air travel, you can mitigate the impact of carbon emissions from flying by contributing to organizations like Mass Audubon working to reduce carbon emissions in other ways.

Here’s How it Works

You sign up at Jet-set Offset via email and select Mass Audubon as your favorite environmental cause.

Then, every time you fly, you will automatically donate one cent per mile to Mass Audubon. Why one cent per mile? It’s an average estimate of the cost to offset carbon emissions from individual air travel based on multiple carbon calculators.

Why Choose Mass Audubon

By partnering with us, Jet Set Off-Set participants will respond to a changing climate through our work:

Advocacy – Mass Audubon fights for legislation and funding that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps communities adapt to the inevitable challenges of a changing climate.

Education – By teaching people of all ages about climate change, we inspire them to take direct action and combat climate change in their homes, schools, and communities. We also host Climate Cafes and Youth Climate Summits to convene people around this urgent issue.

Conservation – Scientific research helps determine how climate change affects the most vulnerable and endangered birds, amphibians, and mammals. With this research, we protect the land and habitats – and wildlife corridors – those animals need to thrive.

Learn more and read the FAQs >

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.


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.

Following the Sun at Arcadia

A new, tilting, rotating solar panel is going online at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Northampton. Like other photovoltaic (PV) panels, it generates clean, renewable electricity from sunlight.

But unlike other static arrays, this panel uses a tracker that follows the sun across the sky. It adjusts to the height of the sun above the horizon as it changes during the day and throughout the seasons, harnessing 45% more power than fixed panels.

Statewide, Mass Audubon generates more than 37% of electricity from solar, and we purchase the rest of what we need from renewable sources. With this new panel, Arcadia will generate even more electricity than it uses, feeding the excess back into the electrical grid. That reduces the need to generate electricity from sources that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

This particular solar panel at Arcadia highlights the importance of donations to Mass Audubon’s mission. Contributions from two exceptionally generous community members—Brian Adams and Morey Phippen—and Northeast Solar made this possible. The care and generosity of others is what empowers us to address climate change and continue to set an example for the rest of New England.

You can help fight climate change and reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions. Find out how >

Sanctuary Director Jonah Keane contributed to this post. 

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!

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.

The Nor’easter Climate Connection

Song sparrow © Rhonda Wiles

The forecast for tomorrow looks like a doozy. It’s possible it may be one of the biggest March storms in New England history. With lots of snow, wind, and a wintry mix, plan to stay safe and off the roads if at all possible.

It’s counterintuitive that a warming world would bring more intense snowstorms to New England, but that may very well be the case. In fact, storms considered severe nor’easters by today’s standards may become the norm in the near future.

How can that be?

To understand how this works, we need to look at where nor’easters, and storms in general, get their gusto. Nor’easters gather energy when cold, dense air from Canada meets warm, moist air coming off the Atlantic Ocean on the Gulf Stream. The colliding air masses give the atmosphere everything it needs to make a major storm: moisture, warm temperatures to loft air upward, and dense cold air to stir it all up.

As our oceans warm, we’ll see more moisture and more heat energy stored in the southern Atlantic Ocean. That means nor’easters will be more common and more potent. As long as air temperatures over Canada remain cold enough to bring snow, we could have more snowstorm stories to tell over the next few decades.

Beyond 2050, the outlook is less certain. We may see nor’easters remain strong, become more frequent, but bring heavy rains instead of snow. But there is also a chance that temperature will warm faster over Canada than the Atlantic bringing us more storms but fewer nor’easters.

For now, keep the shovels handy, a deck of cards at the ready, and the cupboard stocked with canned food.

Written by Daniel Brown, Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Coordinator

Have You Hugged a Hemlock Lately?

Richard Webb, Self-employed horticulurist, Bugwood.orgOf all the evergreens in the winter woods, eastern hemlocks are the friendliest.

During the short, dark days of winter—when we are tempted to stay inside our heated spaces—the hemlock calls us to come out and play.

Treasured Tree
What makes the eastern hemlock so special to winter-weary humans?

  • Its short, flat needles are soft to the touch (not prickly like spruce) and its trunk doesn’t gum up your hands with pitch.
  • Hemlocks are shade loving and their lower branches can live for a long time, making them the perfect trees for finding or building shelters made of sticks and leaves.
  • A mature hemlock creates such dense shade, and its needles cause the soil to be so acidic, that few other plants can grow underneath. As a result, hemlock groves create their own micro-environment—cool, open, and dark. Perfect places for hiding, resting, and playing games.

Wildlife Treat

Porcupine in Hemlock_Richard JohnsonHemlock groves are magical to non-human animals, too. Because hemlock branches hold so much snow, snow depths beneath the trees are significantly lower. Deer often bed down underneath these trees, taking advantage of shallower snow and sheltering branches. Treat yourself to an early morning snowshoe or hike. You may be able to follow deer tracks from hemlock to hemlock, finding packed snow outlining the shape of a deer underneath each one.

Many animals eat hemlock. (In case you were wondering, eastern hemlock is not the kind of hemlock that poisoned Socrates.) Grouse and rabbits eat buds and needles. Red squirrels and mice chew off the scales of the tiny hemlock cones to get at the seeds underneath. Deer will also eat hemlock foliage and twigs as high up as they can reach.

Porcupines prefer hemlock and will eat the bark and chew off large twigs. If you see scattered hemlock twigs or tips in the snow, look up. You may see a porcupine in the branches of the tree or, on at least one Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary, living in the tree’s trunk.

The Fate of Hemlocks

Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.orgSadly, our Massachusetts hemlocks are threatened by woolly adelgid, an aphid-like insect that sucks sap from the needles. If you see what look like tiny white cotton balls at the base of hemlock needles, you’ll know the tree is infested. Woolly adelgid can be killed by very cold winters or pesticides, and scientists are experimenting with biological controls, but currently there is no cure.

Warming temperatures encourage the spread of woolly adelgid, so we can help hemlocks by combating climate change. Find out how Mass Audubon is leading by example and how you, too, can reduce your carbon footprint.

Finding Hemlocks

Many Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries harbor hemlock groves, including Eagle Lake in Holden, Laughing Brook in Hampden, Pleasant Valley in Lenox, and Wachusett Meadow in Princeton.

Tread lightly. Approach quietly. Appreciate much. But go out and find a hemlock today, for there is no better friend in the winter woods than the eastern hemlock.

Learn more about winter trees in a Mass Audubon program.

Photos Richard Webb, Self-employed horticulurist, Bugwood.org;
Richard Johnson;  Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org