climate change

OpEd: Lessons from Harvey: R.I. must plan with flooding in mind

carson.jpgby Rep. Lauren H. Carson

In recent days we’ve seen harrowing images of Texans carrying their children, belongings and pets against strong currents in chest-deep waters, and heard the heartbreaking stories of loss as one of the most-damaging storms in history wreaked its havoc on the Gulf coast.

Here in the Ocean State, we must take heed. We may be 1,800 miles away, but we are similarly at risk for devastating flooding in the event of a hurricane or other severe weather event.

In 2016, I led a special legislative commission that studied the economic risks that sea rise and flooding pose to our state. What our panel found was that Rhode Island can protect itself from some of the economic risks posed by rising sea levels through coordinated statewide planning and awareness programs aimed at policymakers, homeowners, business owners, and real estate agents. But we also found that we musts do more to ensure that all policy makers across the state grasp that the risks aren’t merely hypothetical. As a coastal state with a majority of our population and resources located near the water, the dangers to our lives and resources are inevitable, and we need to protect them before the next Harvey, Katrina, Gloria, or Carol comes our way.

Toward that end, this session I sponsored legislation requiring continuing training on sea rise and flooding for all local planning boards. The bill aims to ensure that those who have the front-line duties of determining whether, where and how we build our communities have the information and tools to ensure new development and redevelopment is built with an eye toward protecting assets from rising sea levels, which also affect inland and riverine municipalities. The training program has already been developed at the University of Rhode Island, having been funded in last year’s state budget, and consists of a one-hour course that planners can take for free online at their own convenience.

This is quite possibly one of the most critically important things we can do to protect public and private assets, as well as lives and livelihoods, from flooding. Empowering local planners to recognize future risks and require that future development protect against them will do more than protect their investments; it will also help keep insurance costs for all Rhode Island properties from rising rapidly, since high replacement costs and recurring disasters increase insurers’ costs, and property-holders’ rates. The insurance industry should embrace this effort to prepare for future risk.

This legislation has passed the House and is now awaiting Senate approval. The Senate Judiciary Committee had recommended it for passage by the full Senate before the Assembly unexpectedly recessed in June. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to see this bill through to the finish line when the two chambers return on Sept. 19.

Rhode Island must be more proactive in planning for flooding and sea rise. The devastating toll of human loss and suffering in Texas must remind us of the high stakes involved.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-75, Newport) served as chair of the Special House Commission to Study Economic Risk Due to Flooding and Sea Level Rise.

Editorial note: OpEd provided by State House news bureau.

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02871, Localblogging, climate change

AIPC to hold solar forum at Salve on 9/23

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 12.27.46 PM.pngThe Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) will be holding a public forum on solar energy at the Salve Regina Pell Center at 6pm on September 23. This will be the first in a "Smart Island" series of forums, according to a release from the AIPC.

"Solar and Beyond: the Aquidneck Island Energy Forum" will feature some of RI's leading advocates and decision-makers on energy policy: State Representatives Lauren Carson and Deborah Ruggiero; Marion Gold, Commissioner of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission; and Carol Grant, Commissioner of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources.

“This is an important and timely discussion,” said Representative Carson. “The speakers and panelists each bring unique expertise and knowledge for building a cleaner and renewable energy agenda for Aquidneck Island. This smart step can put the three municipalities on the same track towards a future of clean and local energy projects and investments.”

A panel discussion with energy experts and leaders from the private, public, and non-profit sectors will follow the speakers. The evening will end with a discussion about building a clean, sustainable and affordable energy future for the communities of Aquidneck Island and beyond.

“AIPC is really pleased to be able to bring this important event to the Island, and grateful for the support of all our partners,” said Hilary Stevens, Chair of AIPC. “The “Solar and Beyond” forum will build on AIPC’s recent work, helping Aquidneck Island to expand clean energy – while kicking off a terrific series of public conversations among Island communities.”

The Aquidneck Island Energy Forum, hosted in partnership with Acadia Center and Emerald Cities Rhode Island, will take place from 6:00-8:00pm on Thursday, September 22nd at the Salve Regina’s Pell Center, 518 Bellevue. Admission is free and open to the public but space is limited. Register online here.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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02871, Localblogging, AIPC, climate change

LTE: R.I. must build smarter now to adapt to already-rising sea levels

By Rep. Lauren H. Carson

16may16_carson.jpgIn recent years, it has become common to walk out my front door near Newport’s waterfront in the historic Point neighborhood during a storm and see several inches of water surging up the road. For some, the challenges caused by sea rise and flooding still seem hypothetical, but for me and the hundreds of other neighbors and businesses in my district, the issue is on our doorsteps — sometimes over them.

While Rhode Island possesses the research and intellectual capital to tackle sea-level rise, I witnessed a communication divide between those studying the issue, stakeholders affected by it and leaders capable of addressing it. For that reason, one of my first priorities upon my election to the House was to sponsor the creation of a commission to study and bring attention to the economic risks that sea rise and flooding pose to our state.

The commission, whose members hail from real estate, hospitality and tourism, academia, science and public policy, worked for six months, conducting case studies on the Providence Port, the Newport waterfront and the Westerly beachfront, and listening to municipal, state, and regional experts.

What we found was that businesses from beachside restaurants in Westerly to marine shipping corporations in Providence are beginning to understand the threat of sea level rise and conceptualize solutions, but we still have much work to do to ensure the Ocean State adequately adapts. In the end, the state must adopt a philosophical approach to meeting adaptation goals that embrace the broader aim of protecting Rhode Island’s overall economy from flooding and rising waters.

Toward that end, I have introduced legislation requiring continuing training on sea rise and flooding for all local zoning and planning boards, to ensure that those who have the front-line duties of determining whether, where and how we build our communities have the information and tools to ensure new development and redevelopment is built with an eye toward protecting assets from rising sea levels, which also affect inland and riverene municipalities. This is quite possibly one of the most critically important things we can do to protect public and private assets, as well as lives and livelihoods, from flooding. Empowering local planners to recognize future risks and require that future development protect against them will do more than protect their investments; it will also help keep insurance costs for all Rhode Island properties from rising rapidly, since high replacement costs and recurring disasters increase insurers’ costs, and property-holders’ rates. The insurance industry should embrace my efforts to prepare for future risk.

I am also working to design a flood audit program similar to the existing free energy audit program offered by RISE Engineering through National Grid. While this legislation may not be ready in time for passage this session, helping businesses and residential property owners in the flood plain understand and mitigate their own risks was one of the recommendations of our commission.

At the commission’s request, the Department of Business Regulation is also considering regulatory training for real estate agents on sea rise and flooding as part of their continuing education requirements as a means for making improvements to existing properties when they hit the market to ensure their protection from flooding, and helping agents protect Rhode Island buyers from making risky investments.

Our study commission learned many important things about our fragile coast, but mainly we learned that there is a high cost to doing nothing. A do-nothing approach will likely cause insurance premiums to increase and homes and businesses to flood near and far from our 400 miles of coastline.

It is cheaper to act now.

Rhode Island is prepared to do that because of well-defined regulations, strong risk-assessment tools, and effective cooperation between the government, academia and the private sector.
We can project Rhode Island as a leader in the region for taking steps to ensure minimal property damage and business interruption costs and loss of value due to sea rise, sea surge and flooding.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) is chairwoman of the Special House Commission to Study Economic Risk Due to Flooding and Sea Level Rise.

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02871, Localblogging, LTE, GA, climate change

DA drops criminal charges against Brayton blockaders

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Bristol County DA Sam Sutter holds a copy of Bill McKibben's article. Photo credit: Peter Bowden.

In one of the most delightfully unexpected twists in a US courtroom since Miracle on 34th Street, the Bristol County District Attorney, Sam Sutter, dropped criminal charges against two men who had used a lobster boat to block a coal shipment at the Brayton Point power station and promised to join them at the People's Climate March in New York in two weeks.

"Political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking," Sutter said, in video taken at the press conference this morning outside the Fall River District Court where he announced the deal which dropped the criminal charges in favor of civil infractions with restitution to the towns affected. Sutter went on to say that he was pleased to have reached an agreement that "symbolizes our commitment at the Bristol County District Attorney's office to take a leadership role on this issue."

"I certainly will be in New York in two weeks," he said. He showed the assembled media a copy of Rolling Stone featuring an article by climate activist Bill McKibben urging people to attend the People's Climate March on September 21.

This afternoon, the Better Future Project, which had been organizing support for the two climate activists through the web site Lobster Boat Blockade.org, sent a release to media with the background and responses from the two men.

In May 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara used a small white lobster boat, the Henry David T, to block a shipment of 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, MA, the largest coal plant in New England. They were charged with conspiracy, disturbing the peace and motor vessel violations and faced up to several years in jail.

Ken and Jay had sought to become the first American climate activists to use a “necessity defense”, arguing that the blockade was necessary in light of the imminent threat of climate change. They had planned to call former NASA climatologist James Hansen and environmentalist Bill McKibben to the stand as expert witnesses.

“The truth is that taking these sorts of actions is necessary in light of the drastic news that continues to be described by the science. This decision by the District Attorney is an admission that the political and economic system isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously, and that it falls to ordinary citizens, especially people of faith, to stand up and take action to avert catastrophe,” said Jay O'Hara, a Quaker.

“By dropping the criminal charges against us and stating that ‘political leadership on this [climate] issue has been gravely lacking,’ DA Sutter in effect accepted our necessity defense. The climate crisis is so terrible and so fast that it overwhelms ordinary political avenues. Even now, as the West Antarctic ice shelf is in unstoppable collapse, the Brayton Point plant is increasing the amount of coal it burns. Protest works, indeed protest maybe the only thing that can save us,” said Ken Ward.

Ken and Jay’s blockade sparked a summer of action at the Brayton Point, including the arrest of 44 people at the gates of the plant in July 2013. Last fall, the owners announced the closure of Brayton Point in 2017.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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02871, Localblogging, climate change, environment

WMO features future weather forecasts in runup to Climate Summit

The World Meteorological Organization, to help build awareness of the local impacts of climate change, solicited fictional weather reports from the year 2050 from around the globe, and will be hosting the videos on their YouTube channel all month, according to a post on their web site. Here's the teaser:

The Climate Summit will take place at the United Nations on Sept. 23.

The weekend before, on Sunday, Sept. 21, several hundred thousand people are expected to participate in the People's Climate March in New York, calling on the world leaders attending the Summit to take action.

If you're interested in participating, buses will be running from Rhode Island to the event.

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02871, Localblogging, climate change, environment

Correction to "Drown Your Town" map for Island Park

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Click to embiggen.

In an article in the Portsmouth Times this week, a map I had created in Google Earth of Island Park with a 1-meter sea level rise appeared to show more potential flooding because of the resolution of the map (technically, the eye height from which the image was snapped.) While this was unintentional, I apologize for any confusion and anxiety this may have produced.

I've attached a new map, which uses the outside estimate of year 2100 rise from the EPA, shot from a much lower altitude to improve resolution, and it clearly shows that even at 1.4 meters of sea level rise, there would still, technically, be a connection between Island Park and the rest of Aquidneck Island.

I received an e-mail from one of Portsmouth's public officials complaining about the inaccuracy, so I wanted to set the record straight. The map was incorrect. I have heard that the Planning Department is in the process of drawing up official maps for various sea level rise scenarios as part of the Natural Hazard Mitigations Plan update, and I would urge all my neighbors here in the Park to study those when available.

Again, my apologies for this error.

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02871, Localblogging, climate change

Chafee establishes Climate Change Council

Governor Lincoln Chafee, joined by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, other government leaders and environmental advocates at the West Warwick Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, today signed an Executive Order, which creates the Rhode Island Executive Climate Change Council (ECCC), according to an RI.gov press release. The ECCC will advise the Governor, the General Assembly, and the public on best practices to ensure that the state continues to be a national leader in developing and implementing strategies that address challenges created by climate change.

"I am establishing the Council because for too long there has been strong evidence and scientific consensus that manmade greenhouse gases will have profound effects on global climate, weather patterns and ocean conditions; effects that the state cannot afford to ignore," Governor Chafee said. "Rhode Island must act boldly to position the state as a national leader in climate adaptation with a comprehensive approach that will benefit our communities and businesses."

The Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Janet Coit, will chair the ECCC, and it will include the leaders of the following State agencies: Coastal Resources Management Council; Department of Administration; Department of Transportation; Department of Health; Emergency Management Agency; Office of Energy Resources; Division of Planning; and Rhode Island Commerce Corporation.

"Rhode Island is already seeing the effects of climate change through coastal erosion, higher risk from storm surge, and shifting seasons and fisheries," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Co-Chair of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change in the U.S. Congress. "Governor Chafee, like his father John before him, has long advocated for stronger environmental policies. The executive order announced today builds on that long legacy of environmental leadership and will help Rhode Islanders prepare for the changes ahead while also reducing the carbon emissions that are causing them. I thank the Governor for taking this important step."

Among its initiatives to develop long-term strategies to prepare for the impacts of climate change, the Council is tasked with working with the cities and towns to help prepare communities, as well as identify and leverage federal, state, and private funding opportunities for emission reduction. Rhode Island's collaboration and partnership will continue with other New England governors and the Eastern Canadian premiers to explore areas of mutual interest to achieve common environment goals.

"Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face when it comes to ensuring the health and resilience of our natural resources, infrastructure and quality of life," said Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit. "I look forward to working with the Council over the coming months to develop an action plan that will address the impacts of climate change on Rhode Island."

"Individually Rhode Island agencies have been doing work on climate change that is considered to be in the vanguard as far as national efforts go," said Grover J. Fugate, Executive Director of the RI Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). "The council which is set up by this executive order will provide a platform to coordinate these activates and enhance the value to all citizens of the state and place Rhode Island in a leadership position nationally on the critical issue."

"State agencies play a central role in guiding public policy and overseeing critical investment decisions that have long-term consequences," said Jonathan F. Stone, Executive Director of Save The Bay. "By establishing the Executive Climate Change Council, the Governor is taking an important step forward in integrating and coordinating actions by state agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance sound public policy that anticipates what lies ahead."

The executive order calls for the Governor to receive a formal report with findings, recommendations, and a status update on achieving the objectives by May 1, 2014, with subsequent reports due yearly on May 1.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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02871, localbloggging, climate change

Human influence on climate clear, IPCC report says

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IPCC Physical Science report.

STOCKHOLM, 27 September - Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe, a new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes.

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.

Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence. Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I. Thomas Stocker, the other Co-Chair of Working Group I said: "Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

“Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions,” he added.

Projections of climate change are based on a new set of four scenarios of future greenhouse gas concentrations and aerosols, spanning a wide range of possible futures. The Working Group I report assessed global and regional-scale climate change for the early, mid-, and later 21st century.

“As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years,” said Co-Chair Qin Dahe. The report finds with high confidence that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010.

Co-Chair Thomas Stocker concluded: “As a result of our past, present and expected future emissions of CO2, we are committed to climate change, and effects will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 stop.”

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, said: “This Working Group I Summary for Policymakers provides important insights into the scientific basis of climate change. It provides a firm foundation for considerations of the impacts of climate change on human and natural systems and ways to meet the challenge of climate change.” These are among the aspects assessed in the contributions of Working Group II and Working Group III to be released in March and April 2014. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report cycle concludes with the publication of its Synthesis Report in October 2014.

“I would like to thank the Co-Chairs of Working Group I and the hundreds of scientists and experts who served as authors and review editors for producing a comprehensive and scientifically robustsummary. I also express my thanks to the more than one thousand expert reviewers worldwide for contributing their expertise in preparation of this assessment,” said IPCC Chair Pachauri.

Read the The Summary for Policymakers and the Fact Sheet of Headline Statements from the WGI AR5 Summary for Policymakers.

Full disclosure: Written from a press release 15 feet above mean high tide.

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02871, Localblogging, climate change

Anti-Stenhouse global warming LTE in today's ProJo

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From the dead tree edition.

Today's ProJo featured a tiny little letter to the editor (cut for length and, in my opinion, editorial slant) responding to a global warming hit piece by Mike Stenhouse. Here's a scanned pdf, or you can see the edited version online (including a back-and-forth in the comments with some climate deniers, including The Stenhouse himself).

Or, you can read it the way I originally wrote it:

To the editor:

In August 22 Providence Journal commentary ("Climate alarms deny the reality in R.I."), Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, attacks "global warming alarmists" who "deny reality" and spread "fear-mongering propaganda." He singles out a recent Providence event in which two youths with asthma were -- in his words -- used as "props" to show the impact of climate change.

One would think Mr. Stenhouse might be a tad circumspect about calling children props, given his Center's use of student essays to push "school choice" just a month ago: http://www.rifreedom.org/2013/07/school-choice-essay-contest-winners. But that's beside the point.

What brings me to respond -- in addition to the body of evidence in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports -- is a fact that should be obvious to a Harvard-educated economist like Mr. Stenhouse. Do you know who believes in global warming? Insurance companies. See this NY Times story from May: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/business/insurers-stray-from-the-conservative-line-on-climate-change.html

This is not abstract. For the second year in a row, I have paid more for home insurance than property taxes. I live in Portsmouth's Island Park, in a 900-square-foot cottage that my grandfather bought in 1920, and we are 15 feet above mean high tide. Even the cheapest rate, with RI Joint Re, still makes home and flood insurance nearly twice my property taxes.

Greed? No. Grim actuarial statistics. As we continue to pump gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, we face an increased risk of weather extremes exacerbated by global warming. And that risk is quantifiable. Those of us who live near the water see it in our premiums.

If Mr. Stenhouse truly cared about the "prosperity" of everyday Rhode Islanders, he would be working to fight both this enormous economic drain and the long-term impacts global warming will have on the well being of all the Ocean State's citizens.

Who's denying reality now?

John G. McDaid

What I really love about Rhode Island is that it's such a small state that someone from the West Bay called me up tonight to chat about what I wrote and commiserate about the head-in-the-sand denialists. How cool is that? (waves)

Since I wrote this, there was a frightening piece on insurance in the Warwick Beacon, an explainer on flood maps in the EcoRI News, and a long piece on new models for estimating risk in this weekend's NY Times Magazine.

Also, how much more helpful would it be if folks like the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, the RI Current, and the Rhode Island Shoreline Coalition fought things like this that cost middle class families thousands of dollars a year, instead of picking fights over trivialities just to rile up their base?

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02871, localbloggging, LTE, climate change

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