We’re prioritizing our comforts over our children’s future
Re “As mercury rises, so too the many costs of relief: Data from heat wave reveal troubling trend” (Page A1, 21): My response is: What did we expect?
Let’s review the geology: Retreating Arctic sea ice and melting glaciers are reducing reflective surfaces and allowing more energy absorption, resulting in more melting and more trapped heat — a self-reinforcing feedback loop. The warming Arctic Ocean is releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the seafloor. The glacial meltwater is causing the Gulf Stream to slow down, altering important weather patterns. The Arctic is warming much faster than the tropics, reducing the temperature differential and causing further distortion of weather patterns. The Arctic permafrost is melting and releasing methane. Excess carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, causing ocean acidification and threatening sea life.
These geological-scale disasters are a sample of what is already occurring. They are causing an accelerated extinction rate, violent weather, megadroughts, massive wildfires, and serious degradation of our environment. Until now, we have prioritized our privileged living arrangements at the expense of our children’s future. It’s only a matter of time before crops fail and our living arrangements break down. We can make changes now, or suffer them in the future. The time to act is now.
Lawmakers’ bill would promote robust tree cover statewide
David Abel’s article on Boston’s heat islands — and the discrepancy in temperatures between low- and high-income neighborhoods — highlights a problem that unfortunately is not unique to one Massachusetts city (“On these ‘islands,’ heat an equity issue,” Page A1, June 22). A recent study from The Nature Conservancy examined 100 large urban areas around the country and found that Worcester and Springfield had some of the widest gaps in temperature between their poorest and richest neighborhoods. Smaller cities and towns across the Commonwealth also struggle with extreme heat.
Robust tree cover is one of the most effective solutions to the urban heat problem, but municipalities often lack the resources to establish strategic plans for their tree canopies, plant new trees, and care for them once they’re planted. That’s why I filed legislation, with Representative Lori Ehrlich, to create a state municipal reforestation program. The program would assist cities and towns in creating plans that prioritize tree planting in environmental justice communities, areas with low tree cover or high levels of particulate pollution, and neighborhoods that are deemed heat islands. The state then would provide funding for the implementation of those plans, with the neediest municipalities receiving a greater share of available funds.
The municipal reforestation program will help make Massachusetts resilient against the impacts of climate change in a number of ways, because in addition to reducing heat islands, trees clean the air, absorb stormwater, sequester carbon, and boost energy conservation. The need for such a program is urgent. Leafy streets have long been the mark of a livable community, but in the era of climate change, we quite literally may not be able to live without them.
Senator Cynthia Stone Creem
Democrat of Newton
The writer is the Massachusetts Senate majority leader.
Urban heat islands underscore the ‘stove’ our world has become
We have known since Joseph Fourier’s determination in the 1820s that heat radiating from the earth’s sun-warmed surface warms the atmosphere. In 1979, the Jason and Charney reports determined that greenhouse gases’ propensity to trap heat was the cause of climate change. A decade later, these conclusions were endorsed with the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
A pot lid traps heat and exacerbates warming, but only when the stove is on. David Abel’s excellent article “On these ‘islands,’ heat an equity issue” enumerates the very real equity problems of heat islands in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Indeed, converting sunlight into heat is the “stove.” Greenhouse gases exacerbate the warming. Revegetation can cool the planet rapidly and locally.
Besides planting more, we also need to protect the trees we have
David Abel’s article makes a case for planting more trees in the city, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods.
Equally important is that we not lose
the trees we have. Many of Boston’s trees are on approximately 5,000 acres of publicly owned land dedicated as open space. They are in approximately 680 parcels of land, ranging in size from Stony Brook Reservation and Franklin Park to the little bits of green that make neighborhoods more livable.
Although dedicated as open space in perpetuity, these lands can be taken, through legislation, whenever a developer, city department, or state agency wants a building site.
There is an easy fix to this problem: The Public Lands Preservation Act has been filed in the state Legislature and is awaiting passage. This bill would require that any legislation to take or change the use of dedicated public open space also provide for an analysis of alternatives; replacement with land of equivalent acreage, market and environmental value, and location; and prior notification to the public and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Philip Saunders Jr.