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UMass Profs Join Forces at State House

System-wide Panel Advises Policymakers on Climate Change Science

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Assoc. Prof. of Biological Sciences Juliette Rooney-Varga, center, discusses climate change resiliency during a State House forum on March 25.

04/01/2015
By Ed Brennen

The fact that a State House forum on climate change resiliency had to be postponed six weeks because of this winter’s record snowfall was not lost on Assoc. Prof. of Biological SciencesJuliette Rooney-Varga, one of the event’s featured experts.

Rooney-Varga, who recently penned an opinion piece for the Boston Globe stating that more extreme precipitation can be expected under a changing climate, was on Beacon Hill on March 25 for the rescheduled “Forum for Policymakers: Climate Change Resiliency.” She joined forces with four other professors from across the UMass system to offer their expertise on the science of climate change.

“This is one of the first times we’ve been successful in really coming together across campuses to address this issue,” said Rooney-Varga, director of the university’s Climate Change Initiative, which seeks to address climate change through education and research. “It’s exciting that we could be a resource to policymakers and decision-makers on this topic, which is really going to be the problem that shapes the 21st century.”

The forum, sponsored by Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, was an opportunity for a wide range of stakeholders — municipal, business, public health, safety and natural resources — to discuss what can be done to curb climate change and, more ominously, how the state can adapt to the anticipated effects of rising temperatures and sea levels.

During her presentation, Rooney-Varga warned that given the world’s current “business as usual” trajectory of carbon dioxide emissions, “adaptation and resilience are probably not possible.”

“As a mother and as a citizen in this commonwealth, this is not a future that I want,” said Rooney-Varga, who then proposed an alternative “Massachusetts Leads” scenario that would, according to computer models, reduce emissions to near zero by the end of the century. “This is a scenario where our innovation, our technical know-how, our effective policy-making leads the world.

“We’re still dealing with a future that ain’t what it used to be, we’re still dealing with plus-3 feet of global sea level rise and other impacts,” she added. “But perhaps this is a future to which adaptation is possible.”

Joining Rooney-Varga on the panel were UMass Amherst’s Raymond Bradley and Richard Palmer, UMass Dartmouth’s Steve Lohrenz and UMass Boston’s Ellen Douglas. Rooney-Varga also thanked a pair of colleagues from UMass Boston — School for the Environment professors John Duff and Jack Wiggin — for their efforts in coordinating the forum.

“We need to be breaking down silos because this is not a siloed problem,” said Rooney-Varga, who pointed to the CCI’s collaborative work as a role model. “We have 30 faculty members from all six colleges and schools, 13 different academic departments, ranging from art to engineering to political science to economics. It’s very unusual.”

Speaking on behalf of the policymakers at the forum, Matthew Beaton, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, acknowledged there is work to be done on climate change.

“Governor Baker and his entire administration are fully committed to this issue,” Beaton said. “We are trying to develop opportunities to enhance where we’re right on schedule with some of the programs that are getting us to our goals. But we also have to look at the areas where we’ve fallen a little bit behind and see if there are opportunities to make improvements.”