Boston narrowly dodged disaster when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, but Atlantic City, New York City, and many other communities were not so lucky. Dozens of people lost their lives. It also caused tens of billions of dollars in damage — already making it the most costly weather event in United States history.
The storm surge at the iconic Battery Park in New York reached 13 feet — three feet higher than ever before. In Boston, such a surge would have caused similar damage, with flooded subways and tunnels, Back Bay, and waterfront streets turned into lakes, and a tremendous human and economic toll.
While Boston should be grateful we missed the worst effects of this storm, now is not the time for complacency. Because of climate change, scientists predict the frequency and intensity of such storms will only increase in years to come.
One day, policymakers may connect the dots between climate change and economic harm. Until then, without comprehensive energy and climate policy from Washington, cities will not only continue to bear the brunt of super storms like Sandy. They must also take up leadership positions in the battle to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
In Boston, this is happening already. And at the forefront of the battle is something called the Green Ribbon Commission. Convened by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the Commission is a voluntary group of the city's top business and civic leaders. Its mandate is to help Boston implement the city's Climate Action Plan, which aims for substantial reductions in carbon emissions and a significant increase in preparedness for future super storms like Sandy.
In Boston, we have tens of thousands of bright, energetic young people, visionary political and business leaders, and a history of innovation and adaptation to changing conditions. The Green Ribbon Commission is a prime example. Its members are getting organized and working together to make the most of Boston's strengths and to shore up its weaknesses in the face of climate change. Here are some examples:
-- Boston hospitals and universities are sharing data and best practices to reduce carbon emissions and waste.
-- The City of Boston will soon introduce a Building Energy Disclosure Ordinance requiring commercial property owners to report energy use — so that market forces can be unleashed to reward and encourage more energy efficient properties.
-- Commercial real estate owners and managers are working with utilities on a new three-year energy efficiency plan to cut carbon emissions from office buildings.
-- The Boston Water & Sewer Commission and Public Health Commission are working on strategies to protect people and infrastructure from sea level rise and extreme weather events.
Without question the costs of transforming our energy and transportation infrastructure are substantial. But one clear lesson from Hurricane Sandy is that the costs of inaction are unacceptable. Thankfully, in cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, and many others, where the impacts of climate change are tangible and immediate — flooded subways, closed tunnels, bridges, and roads, and failures of water, sewer, and power systems — it is far easier to find the will and the ways to invest in climate change action.
After seeing the effects of Hurricane Sandy, it's clear that business and civic leaders in cities like Boston need to focus harder than ever to make our city a model of cooperation and preparation for what may lie ahead.
Michael E. Mooney is a vice chairman of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission.