Regional Proposals to Adapt to the Consequences of Climate Change

Written by Paula Georges

Three recent opinion pieces published on the Boston Globe’s opinion page on Monday, May 31, 2021, suggest three ways to address the impact of climate change on Boston and the other communities along Massachusetts’ vulnerable coastline and its regional economy. These proposals are worth reviewing, but the first line of defense is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The first one, entitled “Managing rising seas may require a managed retreat,” by Richard W. Murray and Daniel P. Schrag, proposes that communities in harm’s way must adapt to the “new, future coast, without promises of a perfect safety net that we cannot afford.” The authors maintain that we cannot build our way out of the threat of rising seas with costly sea walls that are only short-term solutions at best. Difficult decisions must be made by all levels of government to end low-cost flood insurance and require relocation away from the coast.

The second piece entitled, “Developing a climate resilient Boston waterfront,” by Jocelyn Forbush, suggests that building a greener waterfront is one way to protect vulnerable at-risk neighborhoods, such as East Boston. This adaptation method calls for a “raised, grassy park with natural plantings and salt marsh” that can absorb flood waters and bounce back after disruption. This approach calls for open, green space that offers respite from city streets to the public and provides opportunity for “inclusive programming.”

The third piece entitled, “Planning a ‘layered defense’ for Boston Harbor,” by Bill Golden, suggests that all the 15 cities and towns linked to Boston Harbor should develop a regional sea gate system and integrate it with locally based coastal resiliency plans. The author points out that New Bedford, with its regional, reliable sea gate system, has protected the city from the devastation of storm surge for over 50 years.  Given that the Boston Metropolitan area acts as New England’s economic engine, the author maintains these actions must be taken to preserve our regional economy.

A robust discussion must be had on what to do about the increasing flood risk to the low-lying neighborhoods of South Boston, East Boston and other at-risk neighborhoods. Special attention must be paid to the concerns of the low- and moderate-income households living in these at-risk neighborhoods. While these discussions are critical, the reduction of climate-warming emissions remains the priority, because burning fossil fuels is the root cause of climate change.