According to Boston’s chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space, Austin Blackmon, climate change is a very real issue with some very real consequences for the city of Boston. With the Atlantic Ocean knocking at the city’s door, Blackmon says it is imperative for the city to look for ways to prepare for the impacts of climate change.
A Rising Sea
Even if world emissions are reduced significantly right now, Blackmon estimates that the sea-level will rise by two and a half feet by 2100. In the worst case scenario, it could rise more than 10 feet. Already, the city has seen the sea rise by about a foot since the late 1800s. As such, floating docks are higher in than the surrounding infrastructure of the city. In addition the city has been experiencing increasingly more flooding. Due to the corrosive effects of constant saltwater flooding, Blackmon estimates that the city could have $1.4 billion worth of asset damage caused by flooding. As it stands, FEMA’s flood plain lists $80 billion worth of assets.
This data is supported by the December 2016 report “Climate Ready Boston” that was provided by the Barr Foundation, which funded research into the matter, assessed the problems and provided a framework for solutions. Based on the recommendations made in this report, city officials are making plans to make zoning and code changes for new buildings. While adapting old buildings will be difficult, plans call for investigating the use of wetlands, barriers or berms to help contend with the water. Meanwhile, the city’s infrastructure coordinating committee has been charged with assessing how sewers, water and tunnels can be protected.
Some of these changes can already be seen taking place in new buildings, with the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital being the first to prepare for the rising sea levels when it was constructed in 2013. Some of the building’s features include a raised elevation, roof-top electrical services and operable windows. The Harbor Garage project, which lies next to Boston Harbor, also includes plans for dealing with rising sea levels and flooding. According to the company, the goal is to ensure the garage is operational within 24 hours of a catastrophe with minimal damage.
Of course, even if buildings are prepared, it will do little good if subways and utility lines are flooded. To address this issue, UMass Boston is studying the feasibility of creating a raised harbor walk to keep the tides out and constructing barriers across the harbor. Other options include finding ways to elevate the city while letting the water in under controlled circumstances. All of these concerns are also creating issues for insures, with some refusing to insure certain areas at any price.
While Boston can’t do much about how other cities deal with climate change, the city itself has pledged to continue to take steps to reduce greenhouse gases in its buildings and vehicles. These changes are likely to become increasingly noticeable in the new commercial buildings and residential developments being constructed throughout the city.