Gloucester will be under water in 100 years without climate change efforts


Henry Zbyszynski

Gloucester Harbor

CAROLINE ENOS, Staff Writer, Editor

Think Gloucester High School is leaky enough already? Think again.

A new study conducted by a GHS environmental issues class shows that GHS will be under water in 100 years if proper actions are not taken on local and national levels.

“The water levels in Gloucester will rise 2 meters over the next 100 years,” said environmental issues student Macaella Oliver. “That means GHS and much of the coastline will be under water by then.”

The study projects that the majority of Gloucester’s most beloved areas will be flooded over the next 100 years as a result of climate change, including Stage Fort Park, Stacy Boulevard, most of downtown, Good Harbor Beach, the Back Shore, Wingaersheek Beach, major transportation routes, and virtually every area on or surrounding the coastline.

“I love Gloucester because if I’m having a bad day, I can just step outside into the sun and see the ocean,” said GHS student Karlee Hynes. “It just calms me down.”

But as the environmental issues class points out, Gloucester may not give the same comforts to future generations if ocean levels continue to rise at the current rate.

“It doesn’t matter to us now but it will matter to our grandchildren, and the future of our home,” said Oliver.

Climate change and its effects on Gloucester

According to the EPA, sea levels have risen by approximately 1 foot since 1900, and will continue to rise 1 to 4 feet by the end of this century.

In the Northeast, even higher sea level rise is possible, due to the combined effects of warming waters and local land subsidence (sinking),” wrote the EPA on its website.

The class cited several reasons for the rising ocean levels, including thermal expansion (when rising temperatures make water expand), groundwater extraction for human use (water is taken out of the ground for use and is transferred into the ocean through the water cycle and city waste and water management), and melting ice caps.

Assistant Director of the Gloucester Health Department Max Schenk believes that the effects of climate change cannot be debated.

“Regardless of whether you believe that climate change is the result of natural forces, or the byproduct of human industry, scientific evidence shows that the climate has changed drastically in the last 100 years,” said Schenk.

According to NASA, 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities; specifically, increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produced by the use of fossil fuels.

The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere controls the earth’s temperature. Yet if there is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the planet’s temperature will rise and affect bodies of water and those who live around them.

“People living in coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of severe storms and flooding, as well as compromised fresh water resources,” said Schenk. “The combination of more people living in coastal areas, more intense tropical storms, and sea level rise will significantly increase human health risks in coastal communities.”

The environmental issues class worked with Liz Duff from MA Audubon to determine where a rise in water levels would be seen around Gloucester based off of sighting levels.

The students then created various posters and presentations that have so far been shown to many city and school officials, and will continue to be shown to the community and its leaders in the upcoming weeks.

According to one of the posters made by the students, “Humans and the habitats of many other species who reside close to the ocean will be altered.”

“Trash from both above and below the soil would be harmful to the organisms in the ocean, as well as those that prey on those species,” wrote students on one poster. “If roads and buildings are flooded, debris will get into the water and pollute the harbor.”

The students’ research also noted that the only railroad and two roadways that connect the island to the mainland- the Blynman Bridge, the MBTA train bridge, sections of Route 128, and the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge- would be destroyed by rising water levels.

“It’s been recorded over the years that water levels have been rising and the earth’s temperature is rising, and that isn’t debatable,” said environmental issues student Jarrod Martin.

President Trump’s administration, however, has so far opposed climate change efforts and underscored its effects.

President Trump’s stance on climate change will not help save Gloucester

While the president claimed that he was “open minded” about environmental issues in Fox News Sunday and New York Times interviews while president-elect, the actions pertaining to climate change made by Trump and his administration show otherwise.

In a 2012 tweet, Trump stated “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

In January of this year, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency pick Scott Pruitt was passed by Congress even though he has sued the EPA more than a dozen times and stated to CNBC that “no, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see… We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis,” even though carbon dioxide is widely accepted as the “primary control knob” for climate change among the science community.

On March 16th, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney claimed that “Climate change research is a waste of your money.”

On March 28th, the president signed an executive order that repeals at least six executive orders signed by President Obama, all of which support fighting climate change and regulating carbon emissions.

The president has so far cited the need for job growth, specifically in the coal industry, as to why climate change initiatives should be rolled back.

Only 77,000 coal miners are employed in the U.S. today, and many of the jobs President Trump promises to bring back have already been replaced by machines or vehicles. 66,000 jobs have been lost in the coal industry since 2011.

However, a study published by the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps program shows that solar and wind jobs have grown about 20% annually in recent years, and renewable energy now employs between 4,000,000 and 4,500,000 jobs in the U.S., which is up from 3,400,000 in 2011.

It’s sad that Trump doesn’t believe in climate change because we’ll all be affected by it, especially by the coast,” said Oliver.

According to the EPA, floods caused by a rise in the sea level during this century could cost “$94 billion from damage to buildings, loss of building contents, and associated emergency activities, depending on the amount of sea level rise and adaptation measures taken.”

“Addressing the additional stress of climate change may require new approaches to managing land, water, waste, and ecosystems,” wrote the EPA.

Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut more than 30 percent of the EPA, including 50 programs and 3,200 positions.

While the EPA is not solely responsible for the research, prevention, and reversal of climate change effects, the federal government plays a vital role in funding climate change programs and activities. In 2014, the government spent a significant $37.7 billion in funding climate change efforts; many of which the EPA was responsible for.

Without political and economic support from the president and his administration in combating the negative effects of climate change, coastal cities and towns like Gloucester will continue to be swallowed by the ocean.

What Gloucester is doing to combat climate change

Christopher Sicuranza, Director of Communications & Constituent Services for the Office of Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, states that Gloucester has taken strides in working towards an eco-friendly and sustainable future for itself.

“Gloucester was awarded by Mass Clean Commission as one of the top green communities in Massachusetts through efforts to utilize green energy including chargers for EV cars, wind turbines, and utilizing the Mass Save program for free home energy audits,” said Sicuranza. “Additionally, a new program from the mayor will be launched later this month called Gloucester Green.”

According to Sicuranza, “the Mayor continues to meet with local, state, and federal leaders to make sure we have strong maritime support through environmental stewardship and coalition building.”

Romeo Theken also plans to apply for more grants through the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and work with NOAA.

“[The Mayor] will continue to work with NOAA for understanding climate change data and ways we can best assist both industry and advocates alike,” said Sicuranza.

Romeo Theken’s administration, however, does not go along with President Trump on many issues that affect Gloucester, including climate change.

“The Mayor strongly disagrees with any political agent – including the president – who will not recognize climate change and help take action to help with coastal resilience and offer solutions to help the environment’s future,” said Sicuranza. “Again, the Mayor makes it very clear that Gloucester must show the way on how we can be the best stewards and demands all businesses and city departments recognize this call to action, too.”

How you can help save Gloucester

GHS environmental issues students encourage every citizen to work towards preserving their home.

“Minimize your carbon footprint and comply with any suggestions or rules that the local officials give out regarding this topic,” wrote the students.

Residents can also speak up about the already noticeable effects of climate change in their communities to both local and national lawmakers, as well as encourage their representatives to support legislation that regulates fossil fuel emissions more strictly.

By doing these things, residents can help make the changes that are needed to save their community.

“The neighborhoods, businesses, and places that are beloved by this community are at serious risk,” said the students. “We must work as a unit and do what we can to decelerate the rise in sea level from progressing faster than necessary.”

This article was featured in the Best of School Newspapers Online, May 2017.