Can the City of Boston adapt to and help mitigate climate disruption?

(See the major update at the bottom of this post as well.)

(On “Less Science and More Social Science” at And Then There’s Physics)

And Then There’s Physics is one of my favorite blogs discussing climate disruption and related policy (in my climate blogroll, for instance). There was a recent post regarding another post by a science blogger called Stoat (one William Connolley) on the limitations of science for dictating mitigation and adaptation policy. Read there for context.

But along the way, a Commentor, mt at 13th August 2016 at 6:25 p.m. where mt, cited the 1979 `Charney Commission report’, suggests science can and has done little more, even with the IPCC. I composed a Comment which suggested at least one city, Boston, was trying to enlist science in its detailed response and planning.

That Comment apparently did not make it through moderation at ATTP, or got lost through a technical glitch, as sometimes happens. I worked on it a bit, so am reproducing it here instead. (As can be seen by the Comment below, apparently there was a technical glitch, and that Comment has now been posted.)


Well, the City of Boston is engaged in a pretty deliberate process to ascertain climate impacts, what should City policy and planning dictate, especially with respect to sea level rise and storm surge, and needed investments. It is informed by science, and climate projections for Boston, followed by three additional reports, an Integrated Vulnerability Assessment, a detailing of Resilience Strategies, and a Final Report and Implementation Roadmap. The last three appear to be late, but there is a hard stop of sorts in the form of a Climate Vulnerabilities & Solutions Symposium on the 15th of September, which I am attending.

Attendees will include representatives from local financial firms, banks, insurers and re-insurers, as well as businesses, utilities, real estate people, government people, NGOs and attorneys. There already was a presentation of the Climate Projections Consensus at which there were many representatives of these stakeholders.

Come September, it will be interesting to see how these groups think about the problem, and where they are landing in terms of a mix of the three basic choices,

  1. wait-and-see, with willingness to take on and deal with damage as it comes,
  2. makes some preparations, but basically remain-in-place, or
  3. preparare to abandon the present location of the City, and begin preparations to assess where to go.

This is in part because:

I like Bank of England head Mark Carney’s description that “Climate change is an economic problem.” He wants to avoid a Minsky moment.

The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.

Gaylord Nelson

It should be noted as well that the City of Boston has volunteered itself to host a United States-China Climate Summit in 2017. Whether that applies additional pressure, as I suspect, or gives the City cover for delay and greenwashing is anyone’s guess. We’ll see in September.

Update, 2016-08-28

It might be slightly premature, but it seems, as of today, that the answer to the rhetorical question posed in the headline-title of this post is “No”, the City of Boston does not know or want to adapt to climate change, including sea level rise.

The basis for my conclusions is the recent history of Climate Ready Boston reports:

  1. Spring 2016, “Climate Projections Consensus” (in hand and available)
  2. Coming, Summer 2016, “Integrated Vulnerability Assessment: Assessing the potential impacts of climate change on Boston’s buildings, infrastructure, environmental systems, and communities” (missing in action)
  3. Coming, Summer 2016, “Resilience Strategies: Developing preliminary ideas for projects, policies, and programs to help Boston’s neighborhoods and infrastructure respond to climate change and become more resilient” (missing in action)
  4. Coming, Summer 2016, “Final Report And Implementation Roadmap: Pulling the findings and initiatives together with a roadmap to address major vulnerabilities” (missing in action)

There is a 5.5 hour “symposium” scheduled for 15th September 2016 titled the “Boston’s Climate Vulnerabilities & Solutions Symposium, long planned. Presumably these reports were to be completed in order to be able to inform this symposium. Instead, the agenda for the symposium consists of:

  1. Opening remarks
  2. An overview of Climate Ready Boston
  3. Resilience Interventions In Boston: Existing Buildings, New Construction & District Solutions. This includes the following speakers and panel members:
    • John Cleveland, Director, Boston Green Ribbon Commission
    • John Messervy, Director of Capital & Facility Planning, Partners Healthcare
    • Ben Myers, Sustainability Manager, Boston Properties
    • Jeff Wechsler, Marketing Director-Acquisitions, Tishman Speyer
  4. Refreshments & Vendor Expo
  5. Financing And Policy Solutions For Resilience. This includes the following speakers and panel members:
    • Michael E. Mooney, Chairman, Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP
    • Rebecca Davis, Deputy Director, MAPC
    • John Markowitz, Vice President – Infrastructure Finance, MassDevelopment
    • Sara Myerson, Director of Planning, BRA
  6. Closing Remarks, by Austin Blackmon, Chief of Environment, Energy & Open Space, City of Boston


  • No major political figures
  • No representatives from large financial firms, or insurance firms. The financial district is located a block or two from the Atlantic Avenue Wharf, and is more or less downhill from it
  • No local property owners from Atlantic Avenue, people who were in attendance at a HUCE presentation and panel discussion on getting Boston ready for climate change. That meeting included discussions of planning to move the City.

I can only speculate why this process is deflating. Even at the time of the HUCE meeting, it was clear Boston was not taking measures for preparedness as much as, say, the City of Cambridge is. Of the three possible responses to sea-level rise, in the absence of any other statement, Boston has made a commitment to wait-and-see and remaining-in-place. Unfortunately, this also means that commercial and other development along the Boston waterfront will continue as if nothing is going to happen.

So, in retrospect, the commenter @mt was correct and I was wrong. And Boston is taking the path of the lottery player.

I have cancelled my registration for the symposium and will, instead, be attending the 2016 Cleantech Energy Storage Finance Forum that evening.

About ecoquant

See Retired data scientist and statistician. Now working projects in quantitative ecology and, specifically, phenology of Bryophyta and technical methods for their study.
This entry was posted in adaptation, anomaly detection, Anthropocene, Bill Nye, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BNEF, bollocks, Boston, bridge to somewhere, citizenship, civilization, clean disruption, climate business, climate change, climate disruption, climate economics, climate education, climate justice, Daniel Kahneman, destructive economic development, economics, engineering, environment, finance, floods, forecasting, Gaylord Nelson, global warming, Hermann Scheer, Hyper Anthropocene, insurance, investing, John Englander, Joseph Schumpeter, Kerry Emanuel, MA, Massachusetts, meteorology, Minsky moment, nor'easters, organizational failures, politics, risk, sea level rise, sociology, statistics, supply chains, sustainability, the right to be and act stupid, the right to know, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Can the City of Boston adapt to and help mitigate climate disruption?

  1. spotsylvania says:

    Hyper, I am somewhat familiar with your posts and they provide some good insight. However, I find myself disagreeing with you on Boston relocating the city. There will probably be some movement, but the most likely course of action will be a combination of natural protection, a bit of retreat, and a good deal of sea walls. The city’s not going anywhere, and politicians and other stakeholders aren’t simply going to let it go underwater. No matter the cost, the city’s going to survive and be protected. It is simply a matter of inevitability and necessity.

    • Okay. The question is, protect it where and how? And at what cost? A seawall? Seawalls have the problems that (a) they are hugely expensive, (b) you need to commit to the highest level (including storm surge) you anticipate, and (c) the expense of the seawall drives the area to be protected to be relatively small and, so, the people just outside of it are out of luck. What about Scituate? What about Plymouth?

      The other option is the direction the City of Cambridge is taking. They are changing codes to abandon basements, first floors, and if necessary second floors to public areas that can be flooded. Buildings that can’t comply will be levelled and replaced after the first flood event.

      What about Back Bay? That’s already built on fill? Have you seen the flood maps from the Boston Harbor Association for a 7.5 foot storm surge or surge atop SLR? See

      You can claim what you want about not relocating, but that wasn’t the trend spoken about at HUCE.

      • spotsylvania says:

        Regardless, at some point you have to grit teeth and pay the money for shore protection and a combinaton of other steps. You honestly think people are going to leave places like Scituate and Plymouth as ghost towns? Of course not. People aren’t just going to evacate en masse from the coast. Cost doesnt mean

  2. Your comment somehow ended up in spam. I’ve taken it out and approved it. I should probably check the spam folder more often 🙂

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