Environment

4 troubling takeaways from new Mass. climate report

Here are a few of the major impacts the climate crisis could have on the Bay State by 2100.

Water flooded a street during high tide in East Boston during Friday's storm.
Water flooded a street during high tide in East Boston during Friday's storm. Michael Dwyer/AP

Summers like the South. Premature deaths because of poor air quality. Even more difficult to find affordable housing. Loss of ecosystems.

Those are just a few of the impacts climate change will have on Massachusetts through the end of the century, as outlined in the “Climate Change Assessment,” the first state-ordered, statewide study.

The report analyzed 37 climate impacts across seven regions of the commonwealth and five sectors: human, infrastructure, natural environment, governance, and economy.

“The MA Climate Change Assessment draws on the best available climate and impact assessment science, active stakeholder engagement, and broad state agency perspectives and was developed over the last year with state agency staff, local and federal government partners, an expert climate science panel, non-profit and community group representatives, and the public,” the Baker administration said in a statement. “The report establishes a priority for 16 climate impacts that were determined to be of the highest urgency in the Commonwealth, representing the top three ranked impacts in each of the five sectors and four within the Natural Environment sector.”

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The findings will inform state officials as they prepare the first five-year update to the State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaption Plan, slated for release next fall. That plan will map out how the state approaches climate risk reduction.

“Massachusetts continues to take a leadership role in climate action, and this assessment serves as another important tool that will guide the state as we improve our understanding of the impacts of climate change,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. “We are proud of our continued partnership with communities as we work together to build a more resilient Commonwealth utilizing updated and improved climate change information that is easily accessible.”

Here are four key takeaways from the state’s Climate Change Assessment:

Mass. summers could be as hot as Georgia’s by 2090.

The latest climate science for the Bay State shows Massachusetts will continue to have fewer rainy days but more intense rainstorms, higher sea levels with more powerful coastal storms, and rising temperatures all around, according to the report.

Heat waves will become more frequent — and temperatures will make it feel as if Massachusetts is much closer to the equator.

“Massachusetts summers are projected to be warmer in the future and will start to feel like current summers in other states in the Southeastern U.S.,” the study says. “By 2030, the average temperature will feel like summers in New York; by 2050, like Maryland; by 2070, like North Carolina; and by 2090, summer in Massachusetts could feel like summer in Georgia today.”

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Humidity, in turn, will also change, according to the report.

“While the high temperature on historically hot Massachusetts summer days (from 1950 to 2013) felt like 81°F, by 2050 it could feel like 94°F, and by 2070, it could feel like 99°F,” the study says.

Of course, all that heat has impacts.

Key climate hazards facing the state as a result will be more droughts, impacts on agriculture harvests, and more needs for infrastructure repairs, not to mention the effect on human health. Over 400 extreme heat-related deaths are expected by 2090.

Poorer air quality can lead to more premature deaths.

Degraded air quality will have “major” consequences, according to the study.

Over 200 additional premature deaths among people ages 65 and older are estimated by the end of the century due to climate change in Massachusetts.

“Currently, 30,000 annual new diagnoses of childhood asthma and 1,900 annual premature deaths among older adults are attributable to impaired air quality in the Commonwealth,” the report says. “Just fewer than 1,000 new diagnoses of childhood asthma are estimated in the Commonwealth solely as a result of the impact of climate change by the end of the century (but the estimate could be three times higher if air pollutant emissions stationary, mobile, and other sources that lead to impaired air quality do not continue recent trends, which reflect substantial ongoing effort to improve air quality in the Commonwealth).”

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The rate of new asthma diagnoses could also be disproportionate: Minority residents and language isolated populations are over 20 percent more likely to live in areas where the highest increases in childhood asthma cases are projected.

Affordable housing and reliable infrastructure could be harder to come by.

Climate change, with its intense storms and heat, will take a toll on the state’s infrastructure.

Heavy rainfall can overwhelm drainage systems and damage even inland buildings, according to the report.

Electric transmission equipment and other utility infrastructure can also falter under heat stress and extreme weather events, as railroads and other transit service could be lost to “flooding and track buckling during high heat events,” the report says.

Finding affordable housing can also get even more difficult.

“Climate change could affect the availability of affordably priced housing in multiple ways, including through coastal and inland flood risks which can directly or indirectly affect both publicly owned housing and the market for housing that is affordable,” the report says. “An increase in demand for high-quality housing and a decrease in supply worsens the scarcity of affordably priced housing. Increasing demand for affordably priced housing can result if people are forced to relocate either due to direct damage to existing housing or because of climate-related economic pressures (“Climate Gentrification”).”

Ecosystems can falter.

Of course the state’s natural environment will be greatly impacted by the climate crisis.

“A changing climate will permanently alter habitats in the Commonwealth, resulting in disruptions from habitat transition, degradation of ecosystem services, and potential loss of some native ecosystems, and alteration of others,” the report says.

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Increased water runoff, drought, and warming waters pose risks to the state’s freshwater ecosystems, while water quality issues and ocean acidification also pose problems for marine ecosystems.

Massachusetts could also see degradation of its coastal wetlands and of its forest health.

In sum, the state report views issues in these four environmental areas as all “extreme” in their magnitude — and their impacts can be widespread.

“Impacts in the Natural Environment Sector often represent foundational changes that influence impacts in other sectors,” the report says. “For example, freshwater ecosystem health impacts clean water supply for drinking water (Infrastructure), marine water ecosystem health impacts marine fisheries productivity (Economy), and the potential loss of native species leads to diminished cultural values (Human), among others.”

Read the full report.

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