A Coastal Concern: Global Warming and Massachusetts

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a 192 mile coast line that stretches from Newburyport to Provincetown. Within this environmental infrastructure exist Boston, the capital city; Logan Airport, the nation’s sixth largest; Cape Cod; Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Georges Bank. This environment is home to over 4 million people, as well as the North Atlantic’s premiere commercial fishing grounds. 

The four million coastal residents along with the Georges Bank fishing grounds are all located within 100 miles of the Boston metropolis. As such, they are constantly struggling with the effects of global warming. Global warming refers to increases in the temperature of the earth’s surface, atmosphere and ocean bodies. Environment Massachusetts—a statewide, citizen-based advocacy organization—has reported that the global surface temperature rose 1.3 degrees between the start and the end of the 20th century. 

Ben Wright, global warming advocate for Environment Massachusetts, released a climate change report highlighting the fact that 2007 was the 10th warmest summer on record for the U.S. and was tied for the second warmest globally. The Blue Hills Observatory (BHO) weather station reported a summer season last year that was 1.2 degrees above normal. The BHO reported an increase in 90 degree days by 50 percent, as compared with the beginning of the first decade following the millennium.   

Global Warming and People   

The four million Massachusetts coastal residents are vulnerable to two main sources of water: ocean and rainfall. Global warming affects sea levels by causing ocean water to expand. Expansion is caused by storm surges (hurricanes and Nor’easters) and also melting land-based ice. Massachusetts’ densely populated coastal areas face increases in flooding, erosion and property damage. The inner coasts and outer coasts of Cape Cod and the North-shore and South-shore have lost 0.6 feet per year. The State Environmental Department pointed out that we have lost 63 acres of coastland due to climate change. Coastal property owners have lost property and in some instances have lost coastal property insurance. 

Environment Massachusetts elaborated that precipitation is projected to increase statewide, with less snow and more rainfall by at least 20 to 30 percent. Heavy, damaging rainfall has occurred in each of the last four years. In 2009, Massachusetts received 3 to 5 days of heavy rainfall in both May and June, with 50 degree temperatures that helped foster blight and contributed to farmers loosing 30 percent of their tomatoes and 20 percent of their potato crop. This year, we had a week of heavy rainfall that damaged houses north of Boston and on the South-shore. 

Harsh storms—hurricanes and Nor’esters—are impacted by global warming. Warm water and moist air, two characteristics of global warming, are important factors in the gestation of hurricanes. Hurricanes start with warm moist air from the ocean surface that begins to rise rapidly when it encounters cooler air. This causes the warm water vapor to condense, forming clouds and then dropping heavy rain. Nor’easters on the other hand form from when colder Canadian air clashes with warm air masses over the ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They form when a low pressure meets a high pressure system and yield snow or freezing rain. These winter storms create driving forces of waves and ocean flooding that damage the coastal shore, homes and businesses. 

Global Warming and Georges Bank   

Georges Bank fishing grounds lie off of the Massachusetts coast and extend all the way up to Nova Scotia, Canada. It is the major commercial fishing ground utilized by both the Unites States and Canada. Georges Bank represents a very complex and productive ecosystem that is influenced by temperature and the structure of the water column. The highest levels of production occur in the spring and fall. Warming temperatures and spring sunlight cause phytoplankton bloom. This results in increases in harvesting of fish like cod.

Severe upward temperature changes and warm water are two major factors in global warming that greatly affect the ability of Georges Bank to produce fishing stock. Changes in this ecosystem like a 1 degree increase in temperature would reduce the production of phytoplankton and reduce the fishing stock. Temperature change in the warmer summer inhibits phytoplankton reproduction, thus not making it the ideal for fish spawning. Fish spawning occurs in the cooler spring season when the exchange of nutrients and deep sea water produce a boom in phytoplankton.   

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Agencies (NOAA) conducted research that indicates that rising temperatures suggest that the hatching of species like cod could begin to occur earlier in the season. This might impact the ability of the species to reproduce and endanger its long-term survival. Another concern is commercial pollution such as land-based CO2 emission levels that tend to raise temperatures. Another potential issue would be any oil drilling that could along the coast. Such activity could potentially produce leaks on offshore platforms. Oil exploration off of the Massachusetts coast could incite fires that would pollute the entire region. This is the scenario occurring currently in the Gulf of Mexico, as BP and the Coast Guard are unable to cap the leaking oil from a collapsed oil platform that is now submerged in over 1,000 feet of water.  

Global Warming: An Act to Promote Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Reduce The Usage of Fossil Fuel For Vehicles in the Commonwealth

State Represent Frank Smizik of Brookline has drafted a bill focused on greenhouse gases for new vehicles based on an emissions scale determined by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA). This bill introduces the concept of a rebate or surcharge added to the purchase price for autos from dealers within the state, which would focus on
reducing green house gases like CO2. This proposed legislation has been sent back to the committee for further research and policy development work. 

I called the state house legislative office and asked the senior legislative aid a series of questions about the Act. According to the office’s spokesperson, the bill “needs more research and policy development work before it can be enacted into law.” She elaborated, “The chairman has removed the bill from consideration for the 2010 legislature.” The bill will tentatively be reintroduced in the 2011 legislative session after it is researched.   

The American Power Act

U. S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut have introduced a bill before the U.S. Senate that will focus on our country’s energy needs. This bill would establish national guidelines for reducing carbon levels by 17 percent in 2020 and by over 80 percent in 2050. This bill calls for establishing a ceiling and price cap program for exceeding target limits by large manufacturers
or power suppliers who emit greenhouse gases. Revenues will be collected for corporations that exceed the established limits. Two-thirds of these revenues will be partially returned to consumers in the form of rebates and energy bill reductions. The balance will be used for deficit control and alternate energy development.


State Representative Smirik’s bill deserves further review because it encourages citizens to reduce emissions by buying low emissions vehicles, based on standards set by the state EOEEA and the UN (IPCC). This bill gives rebates or imposes surcharges on people who want to buy fuel efficient or non-efficient vehicles. It allows the consumer to have choice, reinforcing free market economics.

Senators Kerry and Lieberman’s bill does establish national CO2 and other greenhouse gas standards, along with the mechanism for creating ceiling and price caps for exceeding limits. National standards with regional specifics would have been a far better to help small and regional businesses comply with the new standards. This bill supports developing alternative energy sources like natural gas, wind, solar power and the electric car. Supporting the nuclear industry with all of its high costs, maintenance and lifespan factors would be less prudent.


I personally would have liked for the bill to return a smaller portion of the revenues to consumers and utilize a relatively larger portion for new government grant funding for energy alternatives like natural gas and electric vehicles. Would Spare Change readers and registered voters like the Washington to provide grants for new and alternative energy sources that would reduce our demand for foreign oil and off shore domestic drilling, while at the same time creating new jobs? Share your thoughts at http://sparechangenews.net/category/blog/spare-change-community-blog.


Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.