Like many, I’ve been thinking about the extreme weather we’re facing in the northeast, as well as in other parts of the country and around the world.
In the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) region alone we have seen the devastating impacts of flooding in north Hartford and along the Connecticut River in Glastonbury. This flooding has displaced homeowners and businesses and severely damaged property, including local crops, straining local food systems. One local farm I visited in July had 35 acres underwater with approximately $500,000 in crop damage.
Experiencing these extreme events, including the hottest summer in recorded history, makes us acutely aware of the challenges posed by a changing climate. The consensus of the scientific community is that if the average global temperature continues to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, we will significantly increase the likelihood of serious weather events and climate impacts.
Despite differing views on the true impact of human activity on global temperatures and the long-term trajectory of climate change, we can no longer afford to deny the effect of severe weather events on human life, biodiversity, and our economy.
The problem can certainly seem overwhelming and beyond our capacity. What can we realistically do locally or regionally? I want to emphasize there is much we can do and much that CRCOG and its member towns are doing, through both climate mitigation and adaptation. The key is to prioritize and fully engage in effective strategies around this work. We believe the most prudent course is to implement both climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, and to treat climate action with a sense of urgency.
Climate mitigation consists of strategies to avoid or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to limit global warming. Mitigation is often referred to as reducing our carbon footprint. At the municipal level, this includes converting fleets and facilities to more efficient systems and cleaner fuel sources. At CRCOG, our initiatives to promote public transit and micromobility as viable transportation options are examples of climate mitigation strategies.
Climate adaptation refers to approaches and techniques to adjust to the current and future effects of climate change to protect people, economies, and ecosystems. When we think about climate adaptation at the local and regional level, we’re often talking about “hardening” our infrastructure, such as building larger culverts and undergrounding electrical utilities. Climate adaptation strategies can also include the use of rain gardens and stormwater swales and the adoption of zoning ordinances to limit the use of impervious pavement.
Yes, it may be difficult or impossible to reverse global warming in the immediate future, but reducing greenhouse gas emissions can slow the rate of rising temperatures. At the same time, we can use adaptation techniques to protect people, the built environment, and fragile ecosystems.
The CRCOG team will work closely with our member towns to plan and implement several related initiatives:
- We will develop actionable climate action plans for our municipalities and the region with the federal Climate Pollution Reduction Grant (CPRG).
- We will continue our work to support the improvement of public transit, electrification of transportation systems, and the construction of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
- We will help our towns prepare competitive applications to obtain federal and state funding for new and enhanced climate-resilient infrastructure.
- We will collaborate with our regional waste authority to remove organic material from the waste stream and to support anerobic digesters and other green waste technology.
- We will prepare a regional strategy for stormwater management to reduce flooding and mitigate other stormwater impacts utilizing a grant from the state’s Climate Resilience Fund.
- And we will develop model ordinances and regulations that our members can use to protect tree canopy, farmland, and open space, and to limit new impervious cover.
It is essential for all of us, in all sectors, to truly prioritize climate initiatives if we ever hope to bend the curve and to stabilize conditions for future generations. There is much that our residents can do in their personal lives to incorporate sustainable practices into everyday life, including the use of public transit, converting our homes to more fuel-efficient systems, and being conscious of how we dispose of our waste.
I recognize the magnitude of the challenge we face as a global society and that this effort will require sacrifice, changing corporate and personal habits, and considerable investment. But I am an optimist and am convinced we can make real progress if we remain informed and focused. The time for action is now. If we change course our children and grandchildren will thank us for it.
Matt Hart is the Executive Director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments.