Climate change workshops drawing attention to reality of flooding and sea rise
The city of Cranston held its second of four climate change workshops on Aug. 20 at the Cranston Senior Center. Hoping to inform Cranston and Rhode Island residents of the consequences of global warming, this interactive, role-playing simulation was designed to bring awareness to climate change threats and assist communities in planning for anticipated environmental changes.
Cranston, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Science Impact Collaborative (MIT) and the Consensus Building Institute (CBI), plans to use these public forums to research how the community and local governments can implement changes to reduce vulnerability to flooding and its effects. The project, entitled the New England Climate Adaptation Project (NECAP), aims at educating cities, towns, and constituents about the impacts of climate change within their community.
“We’re testing to see who needs to be involved in the planning process, to bring people together to see if anyone would learn from this exercise, and if it will make a difference going forward,” said Carri Hulet, senior associate at CBI and one of the coordinators of the evening’s events.
Attended by over 30 Rhode Island and Southern New England residents, each participant was assigned a role as a member of a fictitious community named Milton, which was designed to emulate Cranston. Participants were given assigned roles ranging from planning director, neighborhood association director, and the Chamber of Commerce, amongst others. Broken down into smaller groups of about six participants, these players were asked to “suspend disbelief” and debate amongst each other, with each assuming the viewpoint of their assigned role – even if that role conflicted with their personal views. The intent was to reach a consensus to stop flooding in the hypothetical city.
Jason Pezzullo, Cranston’s principal planner, was excited by the opportunity.
“We’re looking to answer the question, ‘How do we, as a community, use our limited resources to address future flooding issues caused by global warming?’ I’m hopeful that people can come together around this topic and a consensus can eventually be reached. We feel on the local level that we can do something now,” he said.
Each participant received a packet explaining the city’s structure, the assigned problem or tasks, along with instructions and expectations. The packet also included surveys to be filled out before and after the session, which gauged the participants’ viewpoints and stances on the effect global warming has, and their beliefs in the community’s ability to handle such problems.
All groups had the exact same information, but there was great diversity in the solutions each team presented. Consensus amongst teams and their members was difficult, but not impossible, to reach.
“The people at the table, as in real life situations, are the ones who have total influence on the outcomes,” said Hulet.
“The public can be very emotional about this issue, that sometimes very little gets accomplished,” said participant Ken Kirkland, who had a stark view of what’s in store when it comes to flooding. “People are going to have to leave certain areas and we will have to accept that fact.”
Greg Guglielmo, former Cranston resident and senior land planner for DiPrete Engineering, who attended the event with his wife Sheryl, found the session to be worthwhile.
“With my work experience on land planning issues such as zoning, including residential and commercial projects, I found this exercise to be pretty neat, and a great way to step back from my role and opinions and look at the climate change situation differently,” he said.
Guglielmo added, “Global warming is a concern all around, and it is very hard to come to a consensus, but people eventually recognize that something needs to be done. Cranston is proactive and very conscious of flooding issues, given recent history.”
Sheryl, a project engineer with the same firm, concluded, “It’s eye-opening to see others’ perspectives. Our group really had to negotiate and compromise, or we were going to get nothing as a result. But compromises were eventually reached, which gives me confidence on the local level.”
Marisa Iacovone, a Cranston resident and a teacher in the city’s schools, saw additional value in the evening’s discussion.
“I’d like to take what I’ve learned here, and how they presented it, into the classroom. It’s a good resource to use. This topic is a concern that students should be aware of,” she said.
Iacovone’s sister, Danielle DeSimone, also a teacher, agreed. “It’s important to build awareness. Most communities don’t bother investing in global warming projections. I feel that the community could prevent future problems if they put their minds into it,” she said.
After completing the workshop, Johnston resident Roger Scungio provided his stamp of approval, stating, “This was a wonderful community experiment that built awareness of climate change, and the costs associated with it, for the community. I’m glad I attended.”
Providence resident Anastasia Custer tried to put the best light on how she felt local governments will handle future problems caused by climate change.
“I’m an optimist, and I think anytime a group of people are impacted by a problem of this magnitude, it increases the likelihood of them reaching a solution,” she said.
PhD candidate Dayna Lee Rumore, specializing in environmental policy and planning with the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, was instrumental in bringing NECAP to Cranston.
“Recent research shows that there’s a 95 percent certainty that climate change is caused by humans. We recognize there are challenges with planning for this at a local level, with uncertain results,” said Rumore. “We’re optimistic that, through this project, people walk away with a bigger picture. Decision makers often know there is a problem, but as this session demonstrated, they often don’t know what to do, or what steps they can take together.”
“Acknowledging that climate change is coming in the future, and recognizing that there are low-cost solutions towns can make today will make things better all around. We’re hopeful sessions like these keep global warming on the local radar as a real issue,” said Rumore.
There are two additional seminars planned, one on Sept. 25 and the second on Oct. 23, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Those who want to participate are asked to contact the town’s planning department at 780-3136 to reserve a spot on the “team.”