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Saturday, March 8, 2014

New state website on climate change

Ocean State Pushes Climate-Change Awareness

By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

Rhode Island continues its campaign of climate-change awareness with a new website and new legislation.

Created by the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Institute, the new website, called “Waves of Change,” aims to make climate change more approachable for the public. The articles are concise and free of jargon. Videos, cartoons, and even humorous music make the often-unsettling topic easier to appreciate, according to those behind the project.

A team of researchers, scientists and media experts, called the Climate Change Collaborative, runs the project. The site serves as a resource for the uninitiated, from the cynical uncle to curious students. It also encourages readers to discuss their ideas and opinions with climate experts.

Skeptics, however, won’t find information on Waves of Change to support their views.

“The site doesn’t talk to deniers. I frankly don’t think they need to be given more voice,” said Judith Swift, director of the Coastal Institute and one of the founders of the project.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said the website helps rebut the pervasive corporate-funded, climate-denial campaign. “It is an information battle," he said. "The battle between the scientists who know what they are talking about, but aren’t often very good at explaining it to an ordinary person, and on the other side, very well-trained, very cynical propagandists. We have to win this information battle."

Legislation expected

A second climate-change website ( is expected to go live once the Climate Resiliency Act is introduced by Rep. Art Handy, D-Cranston. The bill, expected to be submitted the week of March 2, is being sponsored for a third year by Handy, but this year it includes support from Brown University, which paid two consultants to help write the bill. University officials made the offer as a response, in part, due to pressure from students to divest the school’s endowment from the coal industry.

The bill would create a climate-change science advisory council and designate the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to oversee carbon reduction efforts. The state Division of Planning would oversee adaptation efforts.

To address adaptation, the act updates building codes, designates natural areas as impact buffer zones, and increases safety for the homeless and elderly. It targets carbon emissions reductions below 1990 levels — 25 percent less by 2025, 50 percent by 2035 and 80 percent by 2050.

The advisory council would make recommends for achieving carbon reductions. Market-based incentives, enhanced financing and updating the power grid are some of the expected options.

Tricia Jedele, director of the Conservation Law Foundation Rhode Island, said rebuilding in areas damaged by the 2010 flood show the need to address climate adaptation. The flooding will happen again, she said. In West Warwick, several business remain condemned because of a lack of assistance for property owners. She questioned the rebuilding of washed-out bridges and repaving of the heavily damaged parking lot at the Warwick Mall.

“Why weren’t we putting the parking garage in and giving the watershed a chance to become more resilient to adapt to these types of events?” Jedele said.

Louis Gritzo, of Johnston-based business insurer FM Global, said decisions to prepare for climate impacts comes down to convincing the public and decision-makers of the needs and benefits of adaptation.

Newport’s director of civic investment, Paul Carroll, compared climate adaptation to the state’s history of building resilient boats. It was a process that helped build a profitable maritime industry and grow the economic base, he said. “This is nothing new. It’s something that we have done for 375 years. And all it is evolving circumstances and a change," he said.

These latest climate-change initiatives come a week after Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced the creation of the Executive Climate Change Council. The new committee, represented by nine state agencies, will make recommendations annually for new legislation and policies to address climate-change adaptation and mitigation. It also will consider recommendations from the Climate Change Commission created by the General Assembly in 2010. Its 29 members include state legislators, environmental groups and state agencies.