Climate change project points to city’s risks, seeks ways to adapt
How will climate change impact Cranston?
Researchers say hotter days will become more frequent, as will extreme precipitation events. Sea levels will rise, and flooding will continue to be a significant issue.
They say the extent of the shift, however, is still to be determined – and that steps can be taken to both mitigate and prepare for what’s on the horizon.
“This is really about doing better planning today,” said Danya Rumore, a doctoral candidate and project manager with the New England Climate Adaptation Project, during a recent climate change presentation and workshop at City Hall.
“You’re going to feel impacts. It’s a global issue with local effects … We don’t know exactly what’s coming, so let’s plan to be adaptable.”
The climate adaptation project – a combined effort of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Science Impact Collaborative and the Consensus Building Institute that was funded through the National Estuarine Research Reserve System’s Science Collaborative – has focused on Cranston and the communities of Wells, Maine; Dover, N.H.; and Barnstable, Mass.
“Our intent is on helping communities move forward on difficult problems that require a lot of voices to come together,” said Carri Hulet of the Consensus Building Institute.
The project’s goals include assessing local climate change risks, identifying key challenges and opportunities for adaptation and testing the use of role-play simulations as a tool for educating the public and enhancing the preparedness of communities.
Cranston’s risk assessment was compiled using data from the meteorological station in Kingston and sea level rise projections for Providence, although newer data with a closer geographic correlation may soon be available. The assessment focuses on three timeframes – the short term of 2010-39, the medium term of 2040-69 and the long term of 2070-99 – and outlines best- and worst-case scenarios based on high and low emissions projections.
Paul Kirshen of the University of New Hampshire, one of the leaders of the project’s team, said projections show the average annual temperature in Cranston could increase by as many as 5 degrees by the end of the century.
The average number of days with temperatures over 90 degrees – currently at three annually – could jump by as many as 29 or as few as eight by 2099, with an increase of six to 11 such days predicted in the short term.
Additionally, the number of extreme precipitation events per decades – defined as more than 4 inches within a 48-hour period – could jump to seven by the end of the century. Sea levels could rise as much as 5 feet.
Kirshen said those developments would add up to a higher flood risk coastally and in low-lying areas and an increase in heat waves and drought. Consequences would be felt environmentally, economically and socially.
“Ecosystems that are water-based are going to be particularly stressed in New England,” said Kirshen. “Unfortunately, we cannot reverse climate change.”
As part of the project, researches gauged the thoughts and opinions of the public and community stakeholders regarding both the issue of climate change and the best means to prepare.
Flooding and a rising sea level were consistently identified as top concerns, given the impact on homes, infrastructure, ecosystems and the city’s economy. Randomized polling of Cranston residents found people are concerned about climate change and its impact, researchers said, although many are only somewhat concerned – and roughly a third are not thinking about the issue at all.
Rumore also pointed to a “confidence gap” that exists of terms of those who believe the city should move to address climate change compared with those who feel action will in fact be taken.
Despite the mixed results from stakeholders and residents, the researchers and officials on hand at the recent forum said Cranston compares favorably with other communities in terms of awareness and action.
“Cranston’s really trying to move on these risks, more so than many other towns,” said Rumore.
“We’re well beyond the thinking of some people,” said Jason Pezzullo, Cranston’s principal planner, pointing to the recent completion of an updated hazard mitigation plan, efforts to address flooding and other initiatives underway on the local level.
State Rep. Arthur Handy and state Sen. Joshua Miller were both on hand for the recent forum, and spoke of steps being taken on the state level to prepare for the impacts of climate change.
Handy said he hopes to promote more efficient communication among government agencies on the issue, and favors the establishment of a science advisory council for the state.
“This is not just an environmental initiative. This is an economic initiative,” he said.
Miller referenced the floods of 2010, and the subsequent spike in terms of attention and involvement on climate change issues across many constituencies.
“Crisis is what gets people involved,” he said.
For full reports and additional information on the New England Climate Adaptation Project, visit www.necap.mit.edu.