The Time for Action is Now: How Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels Threaten Boston’s Future

Over the past few decades it has become more apparent that the earth’s climate is changing, with humans playing a large role in the issue. People all over the world will be affected by the consequences of a global warming, with coastal cities like Boston being the most impacted by rising sea levels.

While a changing climate is a natural phenomenon that has occurred throughout Earth’s history, we are currently experiencing changes much more drastic than in the past. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are at all-time highs and year after year records for temperature are broken.

“Far and away the most significant climate influencer is the combustion of fossil fuels,” said Julie Klinger, an International Relations professor at Boston University. “There’s an overwhelming scientific consensus that this is causing climate change. I think there needs to be greater public awareness of that.”

Sea level rise is a consequence of the changing climate, which is due to “an overall global warming, which means that the average temperature of the world is increasing by up to a few degrees Celsius or up to a dozen degrees Fahrenheit,” said Klinger. “What this means is that summers are hotter and winters are not as cold. That increases the rate of melting of the polar ice caps.”

The ice caps are melting at rates faster than anyone had predicted, even exceeding the predictions made by the International Panel on Climate Change. If this trend continues, global sea levels are estimated to increase by 3-6 feet by 2100, a level that would change the city of Boston dramatically. Currently, the city is experiencing an annual sea level increase of 2.81 mm.

climate 3.png

Areas such as Back Bay, Logan Airport, Boston Harbor and Charlestown would all be impacted greatly by such a rise.

“Probably the biggest concern for our city is what will happen when there are storm surges and where will all of this flooding go,” said Rachel Eckles, a junior who is a member of Divest BU. “Places like BU, right along the Charles, and the harbor front are at high risk for large amounts of flooding.”

While discussions and movements have begun throughout Boston to address this issue, not many concrete steps have been taken yet.

“There are some pretty serious things that the city of Boston needs to take into consideration if it hasn’t already, which is what is going to happen to the airport, what is going to happen to the significant portions of the city that are composed of landfill and what is going to happen to the people who are impacted,” Klinger said. “What’s the plan there. These are questions that we have to start addressing. They are not easy questions to address but the sooner we start talking about them the better.”

Organizations such as the Boston Harbor Association are attempting to start the climate change discussion now. The non-profit association was originally created to help clean up Boston Harbor and encourage people to use it. Recently, their efforts have shifted to addressing sea level rise.

“Our relationship with the harbor is going to continue to change as sea level rise increases and climate change impacts intensify,” said Rebecca Hearst, the Climate Project Manager at the Boston Harbor Association. “We are focused on educating people on how climate change will change the format of our city and making sure the city of Boston and its residents are prepared for coastal flooding.”

While Boston does not have any concrete plans in place yet, it is beginning to address the issue. The goal is to eventually establish areas that could be controllably flooded by surges, rather than create concrete structures such as walls and levees.

“The city of Boston is currently going through a long-term planning process that they’re calling Climate Ready Boston with the goal of helping the city of Boston prepare for the long-term affects of climate change,” said Hearst.

Student groups around the country are attempting to address these climate change questions as well, such as Divest BU, a student-led campaign to encourage the school to stop investing money in fossil fuel companies. On November 20th, Divest BU attempted to raise awareness of the issue by playing “Sea Level Rise Limbo” in front of the GSU to challenge students to see how low they could keep sea level rise.

“By getting large institutions like BU and other universities and large churches to divest, it sends a message to society that our school does not want to support these industries,” said Eckles.

This connection between fossil fuel emissions and climate change is not new information. For decades, people have known about a global warming that was occurring, yet the issue has only continued to intensify.

“We keep putting the blame on ourselves but we’ve known about solar panels since the 50’s, we’ve known about wind turbines for probably just as long and we’ve known climate change is an issue since the 70’s,” said Eckles. “We could have done more earlier and now we’re digging ourselves deeper into the hole and need to do more drastic things. [Students] have a special position in this situation in that we will probably be the leaders fixing these problems.”

So what can be done to slow this process? While it looks to be impossible to reverse the changes that are already occurring due to climate change, their severity can be reduced by both individual and group efforts.

“There’s a lot we can do on an individual level,” said Klinger. “We can take steps to reduce our carbon footprint and the carbon impact of our lifestyles. That has to deal with really simple things that environmentalists have been talking about for decades. Conserving electricity, taking steps to reduce the amount of meat you consume, reducing air travel.”

The situation has reached a point that individual reduction is no longer enough. Factories and companies are contributing to CO2 concentrations in immense amounts. Because of that, it must be a group effort to reduce the consequences. Past history has shown, that collectively large changes can occur, such as the switch to automobile transportation earlier in the century.

“There’s only so much that individuals can do before you need policies directly intended to produced that set of outcomes,” Klinger said. “I think the good news here and the lesson to be learned here is that it took a tremendous effort on the part of lobbyists, citizens, policy groups in order to to transform the landscape of the United States such that it could even be feasible for automobiles to be the primary mode of transportation. So if we did that for the car, surely we can do that for something else.”

For large changes to be seen, many people must band together and collectively fight against climate change.

“I think that to actually have an impact we need to have really big commitments and fundamental changes in how our energy system is set up and how infrastructure is built,” said Hearst. “I think once people are aware of how drastic it is and start educating themselves about all of the different things at play, they can start doing personal lifestyle changes but also advocating more broadly for the really big changes that are going to have to happen if we are going to be able to survive as a species. It’s not looking good.”


The Time for Action is Now: How Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels Threaten Boston’s Future

The Lynch Family Skate Park and POP Allston: How Boston is Transforming into a Skate-Friendly City

In Boston, spaces are being created for the skater community to practice their sport on. Two of these newest places, the Lynch Family Skate Park and POP Allston, allow Boston skaters to skateboard free of charge, in safe, welcoming environments. These new developments are helping transforming Boston into a destination for skaters around the country.

Next weekend, the Lynch Family Skate Park will open and become the first public skate park in Boston to help accommodate the sport’s growing popularity in the city. It features nearly 40,000 sq. feet of concrete under the overhead ramps that lead from Storrow Drive onto I-90 in Cambridge and the park is designed to reflect some of history and culture of Boston’s skating community.

Skateboarding was born on the West Coast of California in the 1950s when, according to Skateboarding Magazine, surfers created a board out of a wooden board and rollerblade wheels attached underneath. The sport has undergone rises and falls in popularity since, due to various technological improvements and changing perceptions of the sport (see timeline).

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 3.33.34 PM

The Charles River Conservancy officially got involved with the skate park in 2004 and “we talk about it being a 10-year project, a 15-year project, but you could probably say it’s a 20-year project,” said Theresa Doherty, the CRC Project Coordinator.

The need for the park was realized when Nancy Schön, the sculptor of Make Way of Ducklings in the Boston Public Gardens, saw a group of skaters practicing on her “Tortoise and Hare” sculptures in Copley Square around 1996/1997. She went up to them and said “‘Hey this is my artwork. You might ruin it. Please don’t skate over it,’” said Doherty.

Schön soon “found out that there was no skate park in Boston,” said Doherty. “Skating is illegal in the streets of Boston and in public plazas. It’s just not welcome. So these were athletes just trying to practice their sport and they didn’t have a place to do it.”

Nancy Schön would later meet Renata von Tscharner, the founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy. The two discussed the need for the park and eventually teamed up and began looking for potential sites. “Nancy is still around and is excited to see the park open,” said Doherty.

The Lynch Family Skate Park will officially open on Saturday, November 14th after years of funding and construction. Its opening event will feature several speakers including Vans Vice President, Steve van Doren, the son of the company’s founder, and Peter Lynch of the Lynch Foundation for which the park is named.

“Lynch will be there honoring his wife who just passed away in October of this year,” said Doherty. “And she was really another one of the driving forces. Really passionate about this park and about creating opportunities for kids to have a place to exercise.”

The grand-opening will also include a ribbon cutting ceremony, a DJ, and free hats, stickers, t-shirts, etc. The park will be fully open to the public to skate following the festivities.

The Lynch Family Skate Park will be a big draw for tourism as there have already requests from big companies to hold competitions and other events. Skaters around the country will have more of a reason to visit Boston due to the many potential benefits of the park.

Parks like the Lynch Family Skate Park are helping improve the skating scene in Boston said Erick Pickard, an employee at the popular Orchard Skate Shop on Newbury Street. “It’s getting a lot better. It’s more of a destination these days than it has been in the past.”

While cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York are well-regarded for their skatebaility, according to a ranking by Transworld Skateboarding, Boston has never really been associated with being skate-friendly due to its strict laws, harsh winters, and lack of any public city skate park.

“Boston is definitely not on the same level as skateboarding as compared to the West Coast, mostly because of the weather since you can’t skate for five or six months due to the cold,” said Ollie Rodgers, a junior at BU, who has been skateboarding since he was very young.

The majority of skateboarders fall into the youth/college age-group, with 80% of skateboarders being under 24 years old according to the Public Skatepark Development Guide. Despite this trend of skaters being young, Boston’s skating community is diverse in age according to Pickard.  “We get people of all walks of life. Old, young. We have kids from like six years old to dudes pushing sixty […] in the shop,” he said.

Orchard Skate Shop, which has multiple shops in Boston, also runs the community skate park in POP Allston. The pop-up community space, which opened in September on Brighton Avenue, features a bike shop, a market, and a yoga studio. Its multi-level indoor skate park, which is free for anyone to use, is the most visited feature of the space.

Colorful lights flash throughout the first floor of POP Allston, which is scattered with bikes, old arcade games, and a desk where skaters check-in and sign a waiver. A staircase leads directly into the skate park overhead. The two-level skate space features nearly 10,000 sq. feet and includes many various obstacles and ramps for skaters to practice on.

Spaces like POP Allston and the Lynch Family Skate Park will help create places for skaters to practice the sport and to meet other people with similar interests.

“Being in Boston its kind of hard to skate, outdoors anyways,” Daniel Ridley, a local skater who has been skating since he was seven, said. “You get kicked out of spots, people get in the way. It’s nice to have a little, local spot (POP Allston), especially in the Allston/Brighton area, where people can just come, hang out, skate and enjoy.”

Both the Lynch Family Skate Park and POP Allston are helping transform Boston into a skating city. Competitions and various events will now be more welcome in the city, but most significantly, the youth (under 24 years old) that comprise the majority of the sport’s community, will have places to practice what they love.

“I think its going to be a wonderful amenity for a lot of the inner-city kids that don’t really have a place to try new sports,” said Doherty. “It’s a really inclusive community and it’s a really wonderful opportunity to have a park where kids can grow up learning to skate, have something to do after school, make new friends and be outside exercising.”

The Lynch Family Skate Park and POP Allston: How Boston is Transforming into a Skate-Friendly City