Climate change: a real problem with real solutions

March 4, 2013

Municipal Coastal Resilience Initiative helps towns adapt

All along the coasts in recent years, cities and towns have suffered the effects of increasingly frequent and severe weather events such as Katrina, tropical storm Irene, post-tropical storm Sandy and winter Nor’easters causing municipalities to seek ways to protect their shorelines from potential damage.

Superstorm Sandy
Hurricane Sandy was a powerful tropical cyclone that devastated portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States during late October 2012, with lesser impacts in the Southeastern and Midwestern states and Eastern Canada. This NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Sandy off the Mid Atlantic coastline moving north. (NOAA)

“Planning for extreme weather events, potential sea level rise, and environmental changes due to temperatures rising is crucial for the region,” said Ellen Mecray, U.S. co-lead for the Gulf of Maine Council’s (GOMC) Climate Network and director of the Eastern Region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Regional Climate Services.

“Being proactive and carrying out adaptation strategies can protect coastal communities and the environment from the impacts of climate change,” Mecray added.

In 2010 the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) and the GOMC conducted a climate change needs assessment for the region extending from the Bay of Fundy to Long Island Sound. A top priority of regional partners was to stimulate innovation and increase the pace of municipal responses to a changing climate.

In partnership with NROC and others, GOMC applied for and received a $285,000 grant from the NOAA Climate Program Office to research best adaptation approaches, coordinate with media professionals and address requests from towns that were wishing to take action. With these funds, the GOMC launched the New England Municipal Coastal Resilience Initiative in 2011 as one of the many climate change efforts taking place in the Gulf of Maine region.

NOAA already provides states and communities with data, tools and technical assistance designed to support resilient coastal development, explained Adrianne Harrison, Northeast regional program analyst with the NOAA Coastal Services Center at the University of New Hampshire.

“However, we continued to hear that communities needed small grants to kick start a change in policy, develop public outreach materials, and assess options for resilient development that consider a changing climate,” Harrison said. “The grant program was intended to provide critical financial support to communities ready to take action.”

These communities often have to contract work out because “they don’t have the staff or money in town budgets,” said Harrison. “They don’t necessarily need a plan, but help in implementing plans. The small ($150,000) grant program provides seed money to initiate projects.”

Project funds were offered to municipalities (up to $30,000 per project) to work on topics ranging from sea level rise and storm surges, through adapting public infrastructure in high-risk locations as well as emergency preparedness and response in towns from Maine to Connecticut. Some of the six projects chosen for funding include assessing adaptation strategies for the threatened sewage treatment plant in Ogunquit, Maine; a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, sea level rise adaptation planning project, and figuring out how to address failing infrastructure in the three south shore Massachusetts towns of Marshfield, Scituate and Duxbury.

To accomplish the aims of the grant, the US delegates to the GOMC and NROC used the remaining $135,000 of the grant to partner with other organizations, such as the Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island, the StormSmart Coasts Network website and Clean Air—Cool Planet (CA-CP) to develop case studies, provide tools via the National StormSmart Coasts website and prepare media campaign and outreach materials.

Roger Stephenson, former vice president of programs with CA-CP, now a senior advisor to the organization, was charged with designing materials to help convey the message of climate change in terms that non-scientific people could understand and appreciate.

Stephenson and 2012 CA-CP fellow, Catherine Kent, created the Journalists’ Room, with input from the New Hampshire Coastal Adaptation Workgroup, which features stories about individuals whose lives were affected by sea level rise or storm surges, and who found a solution or assistance. (See related story, “Innovative floodplain ordinance passed in Saco, Maine” reprinted from the Journalists’ Room.)

“Adapting to a changing climate in the Gulf of Maine means doing what we’ve always done—that is, development and land use planning and the like, but doing it with better information and tools,” said Stephenson. 

The first National Adaptation Forum will be held in Denver, Colorado, April 2-4, which is significant, Stephenson said, because the amount of work being done to protect against climate change or mitigate its effects is now so vast. (For information on the Forum, visit The work from this regional initiative will be presented at that forum.

He added that a national network formed in 2007 to link people to climate change programs is ending its newsletter, assuming it is no longer necessary now that so many agencies and nonprofits are linked.

In the most recent newsletter, Lynne Carter, the director of the Adaptation Network wrote: “Goodbye!” She went on to say that most of the network’s goals of identifying those working on climate change, sharing information to strengthen their actions and encouraging a change in national policies, have been reached so agencies are now connected and can handle further work on their own.

Some of New England’s Municipal Coastal Resilience Initiative projects are pretty far along, with working maps of their affected areas drawn up and final reports for mitigation plans about to be released, while others are engaging in the public process now in order to design their final plans.

In the case of protecting public infrastructure, it’s a balancing act, explained Harrison, because when public property abuts private property there’s sometimes tension since protective measures must include both.

Canada’s Regional Adaptation Collaborative

In Canada, the Regional Adaptation Collaborative (RAC) is funding several projects in all the Atlantic provinces to help mitigate a variety of climate change challenges. The total grant for Atlantic Canada is $3.5 million (Cdn) in funding over three years from the federal government, as well as matching or in-kind funding from 64 regional partners, including those in the Gulf of Maine regions, such as the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Departments of Environment.

The goal of the RAC is “extensive collaboration” according to its website, by “integrating adaptation measures into a variety of commonly used planning and decision-making processes. More specifically, the provinces are partnering with communities, organizations and universities.”
Sabine Dietz, provincial coordinator for New Brunswick Regional Adaptation Collaborative projects, said communities are partnering with a variety of affiliates to acquire additional resources.

“On the municipal level, some emergency workers are engaging in the process,” said Dietz. “In smaller communities, they may be volunteers, and in the larger municipalities they are employees, such as firefighters.”

Each project takes a different approach, depending on the community’s size and the challenges it faces.

“We are learning how different the approaches to these dramatic issues can be,” said Dietz. “There’s no cookie-cutter approach.”

One of the New Brunswick RAC projects overlaps with neighboring Nova Scotia. In the Tantramar area, low dykes built to protect railroad lines are too low to prevent flooding of the tracks during storm surges. Similar problems exist in the low-lying New Brunswick region that includes Sackville and Memramcook.

All of these have individual projects underway to assess various climate change issues, but a joint New Brunswick/Nova Scotia RAC project is studying climate change impacts for the transportation corridor that serves both provinces.

The plan, according to the RAC, is to develop “a dynamic model to trace long-run economic consequences of these impacts.” A literature review identified four impacts: sea level rise; change in precipitation patterns; increase in temperature;, and increase in frequency of extreme weather events like snow storms, thunder storms, sea storm surges.”


Other New Brunswick projects include saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers around Richibucto and protecting infrastructure in the urban area of greater Moncton. Nova Scotia projects include Flood Risk to Infrastructure across the Chignecto Isthmus and saltwater intrusion into aquifers around Wolfville, Pugwash and the Halifax area.

One of the partners for the Tantramar project is Dr. David Lieske, assistant professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville. As part of the project, on Friday, March 1, Lieske and consultant Lori Ann Roness will give a public presentation on “Talking About Climate Change, Cultivating Social Change” at the University of New Brunswick’s Wu Conference Centre in Fredricton.

Attitudes are changing

Attitudes among the general populations of the United States and Canada are changing on the topic of climate change. On February 17, 35,000 people marched near the White House in Washington, D.C.—the largest climate-focused rally in U.S. history—to urge immediate action to reduce the impacts from climate change.

A Yale University study released last fall reported that 70 percent of people interviewed now believe that global warming or climate change is a reality. The report, published in October by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, said concerns about climate change are at the highest levels since the start of the economic recession five years ago, and that 58 percent of Americans are worried about it.

An Associated Press (AP) poll, released in December, put the percentages even higher, reporting that 78 percent of Americans interviewed say climate change will be a serious problem for the United State if nothing is done about it. That’s up from 73 percent in the AP’s last poll taken in 2009. The AP-GfK poll interviewed 1,002 U.S. citizens.

A Stanford University social psychologist and pollster, Jon Krosnick, consulted with the AP on the poll questions. Krosnick said the poll shows changes are not among the hard-core deniers of climate change, but in the next group—those who once had serious doubts.

“They don’t believe what the scientists say, they believe what the thermometers say,” Krosnick said. “Events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along.”

Residents of Canada agree. Only 2 percent of the 1,550 people polled in 2011 by Insightrix Research, Inc. do not believe climate change is occurring. Almost one-third believe climate change is caused by human activity, while 54 percent think it’s a result of a combination of human activity and natural climate variation.

“Our survey indicates that Canadians from coast to coast overwhelmingly believe climate change is real and is occurring, at least in part due to human activity,” said Carmen Dybwad, CEO of IPAC-CO2 Research Inc., a Saskatchewan company that studies carbon capture and storage.

Now that agreement on the problem is fairly unanimous solutions should not be far behind.

State of the Gulf of Maine report

The Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment recognized climate change as a major challenge to the region years ago and has been working toward solutions for the effects of sea level rise and extreme weather events.

The GOMC published a report called State of the Gulf of Maine, which contains several theme papers, including two climate-change topics: Climate Change and its Effect on Humans, and Climate Change and its Effects on Ecosystems, Habitats and Biota.

The introduction to the climate change topic in the State of the Gulf of Maine report, reads:

“Climate change, or the altering of long-term weather patterns, is already happening and represents one of the greatest environmental threats facing the planet. The Fourth Assessment Report (2007) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that the Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 0.76 °C since 1850. The northern hemisphere is substantially warmer than at any point during the past 1,000 years. Most of the warming over the past 50 years is very likely to have been caused by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other ‘greenhouse gases’ from human activities. Today’s atmosphere contains 32 percent more carbon dioxide than it did at the start of the industrial era. Levels of methane and carbon dioxide are the highest they have been in nearly half a million years.

“Global temperatures are predicted to continue rising. Without action to reduce emissions, the global average temperature is likely to rise by a further 1.8 – 4.0 °C this century. This will cause changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as storms, floods, droughts and heat waves. Such climatic events can have major social and economic impacts including on households, businesses, critical infrastructure (transport, energy and water supply), and vulnerable people (elderly, disabled, poor income households), as well as having an impact on ecosystems and biota.

“The Gulf of Maine Council recognizes the importance of climate change to the Gulf of Maine, its ecosystems and people. The Climate Change Network Task Force (CCN) was created in 2003 to develop adaptation strategies, encourage research and provide information to managers.”

The theme papers are available here:

Climate Change Theme Papers

The Action Plan

In the GOMC’s last Action Plan, (2005-2012), the council established a Climate Change Network to help build capacity for coastal areas to adapt to climate change around the Gulf region—the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and the states of Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The council’s most recent Action Plan (2012-2017) sets goals to ensure decision-makers have access to information “to understand and prepare for sea-level rise, increased storm activity, and other climate-related impacts.”

The action plan also references the municipal grants program to coastal communities and points to the Climate Network to support the exchange of information on climate impacts and adaptation.

Extreme weather and natural disasters of 2012

NOAA’s fact sheets
including 2-pagers on various extremes:

The National Climate Assessment, out for public comment Jan 14, 2013

The Crow’s Nest—New Hampshire Coastal Adaptation Workgroup Blog:

Exeter developing climate change adaptation plan

StormSmart – Massachusetts

StormSmart – New Hampshire

StormSmart Coasts National Network

The Journalists’ Room

Sea Level Adaptation Working Group

Northeast Climate database website



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