Inside the local efforts to combat consequences cited by climate studies

The Earth — including Wellesley — will face drastically worsening conditions due to climate change. The Fourth National Climate Assessment issued by thirteen federal agencies in late November gave the most severe estimate of consequences of climate change for the United States to date. Should significant steps not be taken, the report suggests, the effects will significantly damage the economy, health, environment, agriculture, and ecosystems throughout the nation.

This extensive and roughly 1600-page scientific report mandated by Congress can be overwhelming with its blunt descriptions of national threats that come from climate change, including damage to as much as ten percent of the national economy by the end of the century.

On a local level, however, many students, faculty, and residents make efforts to educate others, become activists and conservationists, reduce their footprint on Earth, and find ways to combat climate change.

At the high school, the AP Environmental Science course serves to educate 53 enrolled students on Earth systems, conservation and material use, and environmental policy in an interdisciplinary course.

“The number one way we’re ever going to fight climate change is by getting everybody to understand that it is happening and why it will have detrimental effects. The more disciplines you can add, the better chance we have of fighting any detrimental effects that it may have.”

– Mr. Ken Bateman

Through debating the efficacy of major dams and genetically modified organisms, historical and scientific research on the intersection between National Forests and logging, and experimental labs on topics ranging from aquatic ecosystems to population management, students attain a clearer picture of how multiple fields of study affect conservation and sustainable living.

Mr. Ken Bateman, who teaches Environmental Science classes, describes the course as helping provide students with a better idea of human impact on the planet from water use, farming, and mining.

“The number one way we’re ever going to fight climate change is by getting everybody to understand that it is happening and why it will have detrimental effects,” said Bateman. “The more disciplines you can add, the better chance we have of fighting any detrimental effects that it may have.”

Like Bateman, Sage Maconga ’20 has found the class makes her more cognizant of how daily habits can have a large impact on Earth systems. One project that stood out to her was when students logged their food and drink intake for one week, and then analyzed how their diets were a product of soil and agriculture management.

“I like learning how my everyday actions impact the environment and finding what I can do better in my own life, and how my actions influence the world around me,” Maconga said.

Austin Pineau ’19, who also takes the course, wanted to enhance his understanding of climate studies that make the headlines, leading him to take AP Environmental Science.

“Growing up, I never really thought about my actions towards the environment. As most kids do, they don’t think about the current environmental issues globally when they throw away half of a bagel or leave the water on when the brush their teeth… I knew I wanted to learn more besides what was on the internet,” he said.

As idealistic as the course may sound, however, Bateman feels that the needed focus on many other topics beyond just global climate change makes it more difficult for students to always feel the sense of urgency that these reports encourage.

“I think people will get so caught up and concerned about focusing on their own face. If you live on Plum Island, where houses are being swept away, there will be a lot more activists,” said Bateman. “But in Wellesley, the circumstances are different, and focusing on conservation and protecting our natural resources is not the main focus in a person’s life, it’s more difficult to look beyond oneself.”

For the Northeast United States, defined as stretching from West Virginia to Maine, the Fourth National Climate Assessment highlights many specific effects predicted to plague the Northeast:

Recurrent flooding and extreme precipitation pose a major risk to large numbers of evacuated and displaced populations in urban areas.

A continued rise in sea levels amplifying storm damages in the Northeast, like those of Superstorm Sandy in New York. This will contribute to the subsequent increase in high-tide flooding in major Northeast cities, which has increased by a factor of at least ten over the last fifty years.

An accelerated deterioration of much of the Northeast’s infrastructure due to climate-related disruptions.

Lessening seasonal differences, leading to winters warming three times faster than summers, and a longer transition between conventional winter and spring weather patterns.

A projected 3.6° F increase in temperature on average than that of the preindustrial era, with those temperature increases expected to significantly increase premature deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency department visits in the region.

The rapidly increasing intensity in rainfall in the region will exceed rainfall intensity in other regions of the country.

Source: Fourth National Climate Assessment

Beyond the high school, Ellen Korpi, currently in her ninth year on the Sustainable Energy Committee, has been conducting research and meetings to identify ways in which Wellesley can make a difference in conserving energy and resources. She has used her goal of enhancing the communication and collaboration across organizations in Wellesley to better research possible solutions.

Among several opportunities for change in the town, Korpi and the SEC have conducted research on transportation at the high school, where only 25 percent of students use the school bus. They have reached out to several nearby schools in the MetroWest area to find potentially more effective solutions to reducing emissions and traffic congestion on school days, an issue relevant to the high school. To compare with other high schools, according to their research, 35 percent of Needham’s students take the school bus and 53 percent of students in Lexington do.

“What we’re trying to do is identify entry points where we can find opportunities to begin to make a difference — opportunities that are under our control [as opposed to] the state or federal [government],” Korpi said.

The SEC has also found a voice in the ongoing Hardy-Hunnewell-Upham (HHU) project, by collaborating with two internationally recognized architects to help with sustainably building the new potential elementary school. They are working to achieve as close as they can to a zero net energy school, and they have provided a matrix so that one of the factors in the selected site will consider LEED and CHP recommendations and criteria.

Public transportation improvements and sustainable building standards in the town have also been points of focus for Korpi and the SEC in this research process. Korpi is running for a position on the town’s Board of Public Works this March.

“What we’re trying to do is identify entry points where we can find opportunities to begin to make a difference — opportunities that are under our control [as opposed to] the state or federal [government].”

– Ellen Korpi

Phyllis Theermann, a Wellesley resident and member of Sustainable Wellesley’s leadership board, said she encourages people in Wellesley to be more conscious of their choices when it comes to voting, purchasing, and practicing daily habits, in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“In high school, you can’t always be in charge of making major choices, but you can have conversations with your parents about signing up for renewable energy, turning down the thermostat, putting your lights on timers, [and] being willing to carpool. Hopefully, they will be impressed and take some of the same actions,” Theermann said.

At a national level, Theermann hopes that the Green New Deal, proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, receives more support. According to a draft text of the legislation, the proposed stimulus package “aims to address both economic inequality and climate change” and most notably seeks to eliminate all fossil fuel and nuclear energy and “meeting 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources” within a ten year window.

“I feel frustrated that some of our politicians are acting in a way that will not help mitigate this climate change, but I try to encourage and educate people around me to make changes that to some degree will help every day,” she said.

The town election in March saw many candidates who consider conservation and sustainability a priority. Whether through town government or everyday habits and classes, people in Wellesley are confronting a broad dilemma with clear and concrete objectives in mind.

An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the February 2019 print issue of The Bradford.


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