Editor’s Note: This column appeared originally in The Amherst Bulletin.
In general, there are two main policy responses when it comes to dealing with climate change on a global, state, or local level. We can try to slow or stop future warming (mitigation of climate change) and we can find ways to live in our warming world (adaptation to climate change)
Mitigation involves attempts to slow the process of global climate change by addressing the root cause through lowering the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Author and environmentalist Paul Hawken enumerates 80 possible ways humanity could mitigate climate change in his book Drawdown, and the relative effectiveness of each solution. Some examples of projects that could be implemented on a local level include energy conservation, moving to renewable energy, incorporating battery storage, electrifying the transportation and building sectors, planting trees, carbon sequestration, responsible refrigerant disposal, waste reduction, and transition to a plant-based diet.
Adaptation involves developing ways to protect people and places by reducing their vulnerability to climate impacts. Examples of local climate adaptation projects include: creation of cooling stations, reinforcing storm drains, creating wetland buffers, and adapting road surfaces for hotter climates. Adaptation might also include behavioral goals like encouragement of updated water and crop practices in light of changes in rainfall and growing seasons. On the coast, much of the adaptation is to the rising seas, including the building of sea walls.
There is tension between climate mitigation and adaptation, since both have associated costs. However, though addressing the root cause through mitigation must be the priority, both are necessary. Even if emissions are dramatically decreased in the next decade, adaptation will be needed to deal with the changes that have already been set in motion.
So, it’s not either/or. Strategies to both mitigate and adapt to climate change have been a hot topic of discussion both on a state and local level this year. Our new Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee has as its charge both tasks: “to guide the Town in meeting its climate mitigation and resilience goals.” And on the national level, the campaign for a Green New Deal is raising awareness about the scale of the effort that is needed to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Municipalities are depending on the state to assist in achieving both local mitigation and adaptation goals and funding. It is helpful that the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy (T.U.E.) Committee of the state legislature last month moved forward climate mitigation bills that would require rooftop solar panels to be installed on new residential and commercial buildings, and on new and renovated buildings owned or operated by the Commonwealth.
Other bills heard last month in the T.U.E. Committee would: create a net zero stretch code, create a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and renewable energy in all sectors by 2045, provide electric vehicle infrastructure, bring back the EV rebate, and create energy storage. Happily, these bills are being championed by our local legislators.
One of our biggest challenges is to provide the kind of funding that will enable the implementation of climate mitigation and adaptation projects – by way of state funding, carbon pricing and other financing mechanisms. Since many mitigation projects are cost effective, or even revenue generating, in the long run, costs will usually be for start up.
A bill that appears to address both climate mitigation and adaptation was put forward this session by Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Robert DeLeo. The Greenworks bill is a ten-year, $1 billion program that will provide grants for both “green energy” production and “climate change resiliency.” In addition to looking at adaptation solutions, it would provide funding for the electrification of municipal and regional transit fleets, an excellent means to reduce local and state carbon emissions. We hope it will be able to fund other greenhouse gas reduction projects as well.
As for other help with the funding of local projects, the recently passed state budget includes, among other things, funding for the towns of Amherst and Pelham to help pay for the start up of a joint program of Community Choice Energy (Thanks, Rep. Domb!). The Town of Amherst also has an application pending to be accepted into the Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program. Once accepted, the Town will be eligible to apply for a major climate resiliency action grant.
According to the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, we have a ten year window in which to act to curb climate change. If we don’t aggressively pursue mitigation of the causes of climate change, especially by accelerating our transition to clean energy and transportation, no amount of adaptation will be sufficient to protect us. At the same time, even in the best case scenario, we will still need some adaptation. We can best serve our town and the planet by working on both tracks.
Darcy DuMont is an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5 and the lead sponsor of the legislation to establish an Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee. (Councilor Evan Ross co-authored the legislation.) Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council.