HUBweek Panel Talks About Climate Change

Moderator Daniel Schrag (left) and panelist Carl Spector (right) talk during the panel. Photo by Michael Sol Warren.
Written by Michael Sol Warren

By Michael Sol Warren
BU News Service

A panel of climate change experts and Boston city planners gathered at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater on Wednesday to discuss how the city will adapt to the problems posed by climate change.

The panel was HUBweek’s featured event on Wednesday. Panel moderator Daniel Schrag, the Director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, described adapting to climate change as a citywide problem, and said the goal of the panel was to get Boston residents together to discuss the issue. HUBweek is a week long series of events and experiences taking place throughout Greater Boston.

“HUBweek is a celebration of Boston and all the ideas around here,” Schrag said. “Let’s put those people together and think about a Boston problem.”

The four person panel was made up of Boston’s Chief Resilience Officer Atyia Martin, Harvard University’s Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography James McCarthy, Boston’s Director of Climate and Environmental Planning Carl Spector and Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines Director Robert Young.

Schrag made it clear in his introduction that the panel would not debate whether climate change is real, but instead aimed to accept its as a reality and discuss how Boston is reacting.

“This is not a choice between reducing emissions and adapting to climate change,” Schrag said. “We have to do both.”

Throughout the discussion, Schrag and the panelists repeatedly used examples of recent natural disasters affecting coastal cities that were made worse by rising ocean levels and warming ocean temperatures. These examples included 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and last week’s Hurricane Joaquin. Schrag pointed out that events of such large magnitude, often described as 1,000 years storms, are becoming more common and that the city needs to be ready.

“The problem with the 1,000 year storm is that people think it’ll be 1,000 years before it happens again,” Schrag said.

The discussion started with the problems the city currently faces, such as rising sea levels and development on flood prone areas like Fort Point Channel and the Seaport District, before getting into a discussion on how the city will move forward. Though some of the discussion touched on actions in place right now, like updating state building codes and placing new rules on large scale developers, much of the discussion stressed that real change requires a political will that is often lacking. Young described each storm as a missed opportunity.

“We repeatedly fail to rebuild after storms in a way that makes more sense,” Young said.

Each panelist made specific points based on their area of expertise. Martin stressed the importance of community networks in disaster response, while Spector and Young talked about the short and long-term problems facing coastal communities as a result of climate change. McCarthy added a positive light to the discussion, often reminding the panel and the audience that Boston is moving in the right direction.

“This is a city that is thinking hard about these problems the way a lot of coastal cities are not,” McCarthy said.

Schrag ended the panel with a call for community members to get involved in emergency preparedness.

“It’s easy to leave the thinking to the experts. But the idea of individual responsibility is important here. We all need to be thinking about this,” Schrag said.

But some attendees left the panel wanting more. Adrienne Horne, a student at Northeastern University, felt the panel needed address concrete solutions to the problems facing the city.

“How can Boston adapt? That’s pretty open-ended,” Horne said.

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