After decades of research and, more recently, advocacy, it probably isn’t news to learn that the earth’s climate is changing. Legions of scientists have documented a wide range of changes that can be directly and indirectly attributed to human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gases. These gases are heat trapping by-products of the combustion of fossil fuels. The question is, what does this global problem have to do with the Chesapeake Bay?
A new report from the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) examines this question. (Download the full report in PDF.) The report reflects the combined efforts of two coordinating editors and 11 contributing authors that represent more than a dozen organizations. The team concluded that climate change is more than a future threat to the Bay – it is an issue with immediate consequences for today’s restoration and protection decisions. Climate change is likely to bring warmer air and warmer temperatures to the region, accelerate sea level rise, and potentially change seasonal precipitation patterns. These changes have the potential to exacerbate current stresses on the Bay ecosystem and complicate or potentially undermine restoration efforts.
For example, a changing climate may:
These changes mean that the Bay Program will need to anticipate and adapt to changing conditions to achieve its goals of protecting and restoring water quality and living resources. It is essential to recognize that the need to respond effectively to changing conditions is not a new requirement – it is an existing responsibility based on the Bay Program’s mandates and authorities. This means that Bay Program partners can and should take immediate action to include consideration for climate change in important management and policy decisions.
The STAC team concluded the report with a number of specific recommendations for next steps for the Bay Program, including:
In other words, the Bay Program needs to make climate change someone’s job and empower that individual to use existing authorities and resources to anticipate and prepare for changing climatic conditions. With this person in place, the Bay Program can begin to work with the STAC and other advisors and stakeholders to develop strategies to help protect and restore the Bay under changing conditions. At times, this will require focused research and development, and the Bay Program should help ensure that needs are clearly communicated and that resources are made available to support the work that needs to be done.
The bottom line of the report is clear: the Bay’s climate is changing and this will have significant implications for the mission of the Bay Program and the future of the Chesapeake Bay. It is incumbent on the Bay Program to take action to anticipate and adapt to changing conditions to ensure that efforts to protect and restore the Bay will be successful under future conditions.
Last week, I volunteered with the National Aquarium in Baltimore for a day of shoreline buffer planting at the Naval Support Facility at Indian Head, located along the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland. Over the course of five days, Aquarium staff, the Maryland Conservation Corps, Charles County Master Gardeners and local residents planted over 5,000 native grass plants and 1,500 native trees along 4,830 feet of Potomac shoreline.
I’m pretty sure the trees I planted that day are among the most protected in the state of Maryland. After successfully passing through several security checks to enter the Naval facility, I met up with Aquarium staff at the marina. We then piled into vans and passed through yet another security checkpoint before entering what I was told was a highly restricted area of the base (think ‘explosive deliveries’ signs and mysterious steam hanging in the air). We soon arrived at the drop-off and scampered down a steep hill to our planting site along the Potomac River.
When I arrived at the site, I was given the job of ferrying plants from the center of the site to their new and permanent home along the shoreline. There were low, medium and high marsh plant species that had to be placed accordingly. After ferrying the plants to their new home, the planting brigade -- mostly Maryland Conservation Corps folks -- dug holes and planted the trees.
After a short lunch break, I informed those in charge that I wanted to participate in the planting so I could have a more well-rounded day of volunteering (and because ferrying the plants was a lot of walking!). Soon after I began planting, I truly realized how difficult it is to successfully plant a tree. For some holes I had to use a pick ax to get through the tough soil! After about three hours of planting, we had completed our section for the day and all the trees were securely in the ground.
I climbed back up to the top of the hill where I had been dropped off in the morning and looked down upon the section we had planted. It was amazing to see the sea of plants below me and the hard work of everyone volunteering that day. I’m curious to see what the site will look like in five, 10 and 20 years when the plants have established.
I especially enjoy these days of my job when I’m able to leave the office and experience watershed restoration first-hand. I walked away from that day with muddy boots, sore arms and a greater appreciation for ferrying plants.
I get a thrill whenever I see forests on equal billing with farm lands in the Chesapeake region. Especially when it comes to something BIG like carbon sequestration. Of course, one acre of forest land can sequester much more carbon than one acre of agricultural land -- 1-2 tons of carbon per acre per year for forest, compared to roughly 0.3-0.5 ton per acre per year for farmland. But when it comes to best management practices for water quality, and well, eating, agriculture is king.
Kudos to Delaware, which is now only 30% forested (the smallest percentage of forest for any of the six Bay states), to take on carbon for its champion role in the Chesapeake clean-up. When it comes to carbon, it’s all about taking advantage of existing volunteer markets, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Chicago Climate Exchange, and potential regulatory markets in the United States’ future
From a global perspective, the U.S. is playing catch-up with carbon. Our nation did not ratify Kyoto in 1997 when 84 other countries signed on. These countries are legally bound to reduce carbon emissions, with the average target being to reduce emissions by 5% below 1990 levels. Here in the U.S., the states have largely taken the leadership on reducing greenhouse gases, with some big regional programs such as RGGI, the Western Climate Initiative and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord taking off. Last year, Congress got serious with the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, but it didn’t pass. Both of the prospective new administrations have promised to enact climate legislation. Most likely only after the economy settles down -- I mean up. It’s an exciting time for many who have talked for nearly two decades about the need.
Back to the symposium …
How will the markets actually reduce greenhouse gases? It’s not shuffling money around. It has to do with being cost-effective, promoting innovation and, indirectly, better land use decisions. Big questions abound, however; like: will it work? The top six issues are certainty, baseline, leakage, permanence, additionality and double counting.
Once some of the issues start being resolved, there’s great potential for forestry, since 80% of the forest land in this region is privately owned. The Bay Bank has moved from concept to design and will be up and running in fall 2009. The Bay Bank will facilitate both farm and forest landowner access to multiple ecosystem markets (not just carbon) and conservation programs through an easy-to-use online marketplace. Supporting aspects of the Bay Bank, such as the Spatial Lands Registry, will be up sooner. The Spatial Lands Registry is one of those tools that will help reduce issues such as certainty, baseline and permanence. When a tool does this, it also reduces the make-it or break-it transaction costs.
The all-important new regulations will determine the direction of these burgeoning markets. There need to be more drivers to direct more businesses and people to invest in carbon sequestering practices. The target reductions and rules need to be reasonable so a variety of private landowners can take part in the market and get a worthwhile return on their investment. The Delaware symposium is helping with the outreach and understanding that will be needed for any market to succeed.
What’s good for carbon is good for water quality. Less cars, more forests and farms, better-managed farms and forests, and hopefully, hopefully, a postponement of sea level rise. That would be very good for the Chesapeake. For that matter, good for the world.
Some people might say that riding a train for 12 hours from Annapolis, Maryland, to Providence, Rhode Island, and back to attend a conference about our nation’s valuable estuaries demonstrates real environmental dedication. Others might say, “Take the plane!” I, of course, traveled the route using the former method. Who needs to deal with extraneous baggage charges and cramped seating when you can pay the same amount to travel via train through the New England countryside and view the fantastic fall foliage, while also having ample time to catch up on that long-forgotten summer read? OK, in retrospect, I wish I took the plane. But no matter what mode of transportation, hundreds of participants from around the country gathered in Providence, Rhode Island, last week for the 4th biannual Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) Conference.
The four days of the conference were jam-packed with over 50 different sessions, workshops and plenary discussions pertaining to all things estuarine. Most of the sessions I attended were facilitated by organizations and speakers from outside the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Working here at the Bay Program, I often have a front-row view of how our partners are working to restore and protect our Bay. However, I felt by attending sessions led by, say, the Puget Sound Partnership or Save the Bay - Narragansett Bay, I might gain a different perspective on how to approach our efforts here in the Chesapeake Bay region.
This strategy worked! For example, while attending a session called “Creating Public and Political Will to Restore Our Coasts and Estuaries,” I learned that the folks at People for Puget Sound developed a fun, comprehensive social marketing campaign called MudUp. Almost since its inception, MudUp has been a huge hit with the local community through convincing poster ads and an endearing Mud Monster mascot that attends all MudUp events. Hmm, if the Chesapeake Bay Program had a mascot, what would it be?
As a side note, Providence and nearby areas are real delights to visit. A few co-workers and I had some free time to visit Newport, which is just a must-see. The mansions and Cliff Walk are truly spectacular. Oh, and you can’t leave Newport without a visit to Flo’s Clam Shack; you would regret it if you didn’t go and try their fish and chips -- so good!
All in all, my trip to Providence was extremely insightful (no matter how long the commute!), and I’m looking forward to the 5th biannual RAE Conference in Galveston, Texas, in 2010!