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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Call to action on the Supreme Court

To watch this video on YouTube:

Great idea from the Trump folks

DEM offers tips on dealing with beach traffic

Beach Season In Full Swing

beach GIFWith Independence Day and the peak of the beach season fast approaching, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is encouraging beach-goers to buy seasonal passes today to help ease traffic tie-ups this weekend and on the Fourth of July.

Temperatures are expected to soar into the 90s tomorrow and Sunday, bringing the potential for large crowds and traffic backups at our beaches. DEM offers the following tips to ease traffic lines at the entrance booths:

1. Have Payment and Vehicle Registration Ready. 

Nobody likes waiting, especially on a hot sticky day. But you can speed things up – for yourself and the people behind you – by having your cash or credit card and your vehicle registration ready when you reach the entrance booth. Your registration is not your license. It includes your vehicle identification number, registration fee, license plate number, and home address. (Most likely, it's in the glove compartment along with your proof of insurance and related information.) By regulation, DEM relies only on vehicle registration to administer parking fees.

Mystic Aquarium announces events and activities for July

Special Conservation-Themed Programming Offers Family-Friendly Fun

Kids with beluga at nightDuring the month of July, Mystic Aquarium’s conservation events are all about Nature Play Programming. 

The Aquarium’s conservation-focused programs are designed to inform guests about the importance of preserving and protecting the environment through fun and engaging outdoor experiences.

The outdoor family fun kicks-off on Tuesday, July 3 with a Nature Play Aquarium Camp Out. 

The overnight adventure starts at 7:00 pm and wraps up the following morning at 9:00 am. Participating families will have the unique opportunity to explore the Aquarium at night.

URI receives $3 million grant to study disease that often co-exists with Alzheimer’s

Going after a related disease that adds to dementia and brain bleeds
Related imageA $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will support a University of Rhode Island neuroscientist’s research to identify early-stage biomarkers for a brain disease often found to coexist with Alzheimer’s disease.

The five-year grant was awarded to William Van Nostrand, Hermann Professor of Neuroscience at URI’s George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. 

The funding will help fill a critical research niche in early detection of cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a disease in which amyloid deposits form in small and medium blood vessels in the central nervous system, contributing to dementia and brain hemorrhages. 

Although the disease is common in the elderly, it often isn’t diagnosed until its late stages, when bleeds can be detected by brain imaging.

Unremarkable year for environmental progress

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Image result for stalemateThe 2018 General Assembly session was by all accounts unremarkable for environmental progress. There was no major legislation passed related to climate change, energy, food, waste reduction, or environmental justice.

One major success for animal rights activists was the passage of limitations on the use of restrictive wire cages, known as battery cages. 

The devises confine egg-laying chickens for their entire lives without room to spread their wings, perch and perform other instinctive behaviors. The rule does not take effect until 2026. 

Rep. Art Handy, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and the Environment, described the session as “slow” for environmental bills. Many of the wide-ranging bills needed amendments to get out of committee, like his energy-efficiency bill, but time simply ran out.

“Some (bills) should have had a better shot,” Handy said.

Sweeping bills never made it out of committee, such as a carbon-fee-and-dividend program and the Global Warming Solutions Act, which makes carbon emission targets enforceable.

Handy singled out the $48.5 million Green Economy and Clean Water Bond referendum as a highlight of the year. Article 5 on the November ballot offers $5 million for coastal climate resiliency, $5 million for bike paths, and $4 million for open space and farmland protection.

Other bills

Friday, June 29, 2018

Getting the specifics on what climate change will do to us

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
 The Ocean State's 21 coastal communities have many structures that will be exposed to projected sea-level rise. (Beach SAMP)

The Ocean State's 21 coastal communities have many structures that will be exposed to projected sea-level rise. (Beach SAMP)

When it comes to addressing the profound challenges presented by the Earth’s warming atmosphere, three words — “adaptation,” “mitigation” and “resilience” — are frequently deployed. But what do these buzzwords actually mean when it comes to addressing global warming in Rhode Island?

First, let’s define each of the words.

Adaptation: “Adjustment or preparation of natural or human systems to a new or changing environment which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities,” Environmental Protection Agency.

Mitigation: “Processes that can reduce the amount and speed of future climate change by reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases or removing them from the atmosphere,” U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit.

Resilience: “A framework and principles to ensure that investments in climate change adaptation are scientifically sound, socially just, fiscally sensible, and adequately ambitious,” Union of Concerned Scientists.

These words are used so often and interchangeably — agencies even use the terms differently — that their meanings have been diminished, as if simply uttering them addresses the many challenges presented by climate change.

Grover Fugate, executive director of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), calls resilience “the most abused word in the English language. In the classic sense, it means the system is robust enough to bounce back.”

In this era when we are witnessing the climate change in mere decades instead of thousands of years, thanks to building concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, a bounce back likely isn't in the cards. The system is closing in on collapse.

“We need to work toward mitigating the effects of climate change so our children and grandchildren have a livable world. The future depends on our behavior now,” said James Boyd, a CRMC coastal policy analyst. 

“The climate-change naysayers say we can fix this with carbon sequestration. They’re against zero-carbon energy. They want to use fossil fuels. The Earth is warming but we can fix that. We can’t. We can only slow it down. Even if we stopped carbon emissions today, sea-level rise is already baked into the system.”
 This chart and the one below are from Chapter 4 of the Beach SAMP.
This chart and the one below are from Chapter 4 of the Beach SAMP.

2017 assessment from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects the baking to rise the waters off Rhode Island by 9.6 feet by 2100. By 2200, local sea-level rise is projected to be 32 feet. 

As the ice sheets of the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland disappear, this melt water won’t be uniformly distributed across the globe; the coasts of North America will be left to deal with much of it, for various scientific reasons, according to Fugate.

Downtown Providence and Wickford village in North Kingstown are at risk of significant damage from 3 feet of sea-level rise. Coastal roads in Narragansett and Jamestown are at risk of being underwater with a foot of sea-level rise.

On Aquidneck Island, sea level-rise maps of Newport’s waterfront, the heart of a thriving tourist economy, reveal large swaths of harbor-side neighborhoods inundated and prominent waterside landmarks partially submerged, all within an enlarged harbor created by an additional 5 feet of sea. The Island Park neighborhood in Portsmouth is among the most vulnerable areas in the state to storm surge and sea-level rise.

Statewide, about $4.5 billion worth of property lies on land less than 5 feet above the high-tide line, and in Newport, for example, there is a 33 percent chance of a flood that high by 2040. 

Rising seas also generate saltwater intrusion that can contaminate drinking-water supplies and private wells, damage septic systems, reduce the lifespan of asphalt, and threaten freshwater wetlands.

CRMC, a Wakefield-based management agency with regulatory functions and a staff that includes coastal geologists and engineers, is one of the leading agencies in the country when it comes to addressing global warming. The agency has developed a number of climate-change tools that model, project and educate, such as STORMTOOLS and Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM).

The agency’s three special area management plans — Ocean SAMPBeach SAMP and the still-in-development Metro Bay SAMP — are among a select few tools of their kind available to tackle climate-change issues. (California has a management plan that deals with sea-level rise.)

The U.S. Virgin Islands, New Hampshire and California have all reached out to Fugate and CRMC to ask for assistance in creating climate-change maps and tools.

ecoRI News recently met with Fugate and Boyd to discuss Rhode Island’s climate-change challenges and how the aforementioned climate strategies are and should be used to address local problems.
Climate Adaptation

The Ocean State has about 420 miles of coastline that extends inland to include multiple waterways, most notably Narragansett Bay. Shoreline types along the bay include vegetative buffers and salt marshes, riprap, bulkhead and other hardened structures. 

The bay’s shoreline also features disturbed areas, preserved marshland, post-industrial fill and polluting businesses. The bay’s working waterfront includes sites that store hazardous materials.

Sea-level rise, storm surge and upland flooding in the Narragansett Bay watershed pose a considerable risk to coastal municipalities along the bay, most notably Providence, Warwick, Warren and Barrington.

“Amplification pushes surge up into the bay where there’s less area for this water to go,” Fugate explained. “Water is funneled up the bay.”

 Rhode Island is part of an accelerated sea level-rise 'hot spot.' (Beach SAMP Chapter 2)
Rhode Island is part of an accelerated sea level-rise 'hot spot.' (Beach SAMP Chapter 2)

He said sea-level rise of 5-7 feet would cover Providence’s downtown financial district and the Port of Providence in water. This projected soggy future for downtown and ProvPort doesn’t even take storm surge into consideration.

“The hurricane barrier is not designed to protect the city from sea-level rise,” Fugate said. “It’s designed to protect it from storm surge.”

Closed or open, sea-level rise or storm surge, the Fox Point Hurricane Protection Barrier does nothing to protect the neighborhoods of South Providence and Washington Park from the toxins, chemicals and pollutants buried in the dirt and hidden in the asphalt and concrete of the city’s working waterfront.

The Port of Providence serves as a coal port, a fuel-oil depot, and a train depot for ethanol. It’s also home to several chemical-processing plants, including a facility that manufactures chemicals for hydraulic fracturing.

The area proposed for a second waterfront LNG facility is heavily contaminated. The 42-acre site on the Providence River has endured more than a century of pollution. It once hosted an Army rifle range, a coal gasification plant, and propane and kerosene storage facilities.

Should this area be flooded by sea-level rise or storm surge associated with a hurricane like the one Rhode Island witnessed in 1954 — a 100-year event, according to Fugate, meaning it has a 1 percent chance of happening annually — or 1938, a 250-year event, those two neighborhoods would be soaked with some serious nastiness.

Not all of the Ocean State’s 21 coastal communities, however, are along the shores of Narragansett Bay. 

Many, such as Charlestown, Narragansett and Westerly, are on the open ocean and that presents a different set of climate-change problems, like accelerating erosion. 

For instance, along the state’s more exposed southern shoreline in communities from Point Judith to Watch Hill, Matunuck, Misquamicut and South Kingstown Town Beach have lost some 400 feet of beach combined during the past four decades.

Charlestown Town Beach has lost about 150 feet to erosion since 1939. Two of Rhode Island’s more popular tourist destinations, Easton’s Beach in Newport and Sachuest Beach in Middletown, are losing about a foot of shoreline annually.

Saltwater marshes, nature’s protector against storm surge, are already drowning.

 Percent chance of flooding for a given return period and a given number of years. (Beach SAMP Chapter 3)
Percent chance of flooding for a given return period and a given number of years. (Beach SAMP Chapter 3)

If someone were to buy a waterfront home in Rhode Island today with a typical 30-year mortgage, there is a 26 percent chance a 100-year storm would hit during the life of that mortgage.

The damage caused in fall 2012 by Sandy highlighted the vulnerability of the state’s coastal areas to the effects of worsening storms and a changing climate.

When Sandy hit Rhode Island in late October, it was barely a tropical storm, but it hung around for so long that it caused big problems. Sandy’s storm surge was 5 feet lower than that of the 1938 hurricane, but it still caused a lot of damage — an estimated $42 million in Rhode Island recovery costs.

The so-called superstorm stripped some 1,600 tons of sand from Narragansett Town Beach and dumped about 18,000 tons onto Atlantic Avenue in Westerly. 

In Charlestown, more than 4 feet of sand wound up on Charlestown Beach Road. Storm waves tossed boulders around like beach balls along the Charlestown Breachway.

In all, the Ocean State lost about 90,000 cubic yards of beach sand because of Sandy’s rude visit.
As the burning of fossil fuels continue to warm the oceans, Rhode Island will experience a growing number of more intense storms that drop more and more precipitation, according to Boyd. The March 2010 floods were an early example.

He noted that Houston has experienced 500-year weather events three times in the past five years, including Hurricane Harvey last year. Ellicott City in Howard County, Md., has experienced 1,000-year events twice in the past three years.

Adaptation examples: Relocating buildings out of floodplains or further inland from rising seas; planting vegetation with high salt tolerance that are capable of rapid establishment can help prevent coastal erosion; growing a variety of native plants to promote healthy habitats; using less water during times of drought.

R.I. efforts: Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP) was created to bring state, federal, municipal, academic and private-sector interests together to create a plan to help communities adapt to short-term and long-term shoreline change.

Since the flooding of March 2010, Cranston has been buying houses and tearing them down, as some 20 homes in flood-prone neighborhoods along the Pawtuxet and Pocasset rivers have been razed and the lots reclaimed by nature.

University of Rhode Island researchers are studying key areas to understand how the coast has changed, what it may look like in the future, and what infrastructure is at risk; the state’s coastal construction setback program requires commercial properties to be set back 60 times the erosion rate.

Allowing some beaches to do what they want to do naturally, as Black Point in Narragansett, East Beach in Charlestown and Quonochontaug Beach in Westerly are doing fine on their own.

Some buildings along the Westerly coast have been moved 30 or so feet back, others are being built higher off the ground and nearly 200 beach parking spaces have been removed to create a bigger coastal buffer.

CRMC is developing Rhode Island flood-zone maps that are more accurate than the ones currently offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Climate Mitigation: Climate-change mitigation basically comes down to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, which are trapping heat and warming the atmosphere. But even if humans stopped emitting all greenhouse gases today, as Boyd noted when it comes to sea-level rise, the Earth’s atmosphere would still need time to “digest” all the extra carbon dioxide and methane.

Climate change is directly linked to human activity, overpopulation and consumption. The many challenges to mitigating the impacts of a changing climate are closely tied to environmental protections, public health, public transportation, land use, and social justice.

Brown University professor Timmons Roberts has noted that Rhode Island's goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2050 isn’t sufficient to slow the effects of climate change. The latest research, he says, suggests human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions must be cut to zero by 2035.

The Rhode Island Executive Climate Change Coordination Council (EC4) is the best entity to lead emission-reduction action, according to Roberts, who serves on an EC4 subcommittee. But he says the council of state agency bosses is moving too slowly. He has criticized the EC4’s 2016 analysis of the state emission plan for failing to advocate for a proposal to achieve the carbon reductions.

“It wasn’t actually a plan. It doesn’t really tell us how we are going to get there. It lacks the social and the political and economic steps we can make and the policy tools at the economy-wide level,” Roberts said during a May 2017 panel discussion in Providence.
 This chart and the one below are from Chapter 4 of the Beach SAMP.
This chart and the one below are from Chapter 4 of the Beach SAMP.

Political support for the proposed Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville won’t help mitigate local climate-change impacts. If built, the facility would become Rhode Island’s largest fossil-fuel power plant and the largest emitter of greenhouse-gas emissions in the state.

To mitigate the impacts of global warming, Rhode Island’s focus, incentives and political support need to be fixated on carbon-neutral energy sources such as solar, wind and tidal power.


“The Earth’s history has seen huge swings in sea levels because of a changing climate, but the planet hasn’t seen this concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide in three million years,” Boyd said. “The system used to have tens of thousands of years to adjust. Now we’re creating changes in a matter of decades.”

The current atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 411 parts per million. In fact, last year was the first in many to see a jump in carbon emissions worldwide.

Mitigation examples: Plant trees which absorb carbon dioxide; replace incandescent lights with compact fluorescent bulbs that use less electricity; improve energy efficiency; modernize power grids; better use of public transportation; increased landfill methane recovery.

R.I. efforts: Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP) was created to help Rhode Island and the Northeast make wise choices for long-term enhancement of shared ocean resources, including offshore renewable-energy siting; Block Island Wind Farm; Central Landfill in Johnston hosts one of the largest landfill-gas power plants east of the Mississippi River and is the state’s largest producer of renewable energy; Rhode Island is a member of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; continued efforts to get a carbon-tax bill approved.

Climate Resilience

This summer, Rhode Island’s first comprehensive climate preparedness strategy, Resilient Rhody, is expected to be released. To ensure a common understanding of climate resilience, project participants adopted a definition to align with Rhode Island priorities: “Climate resilience is the capacity of individuals, institutions, businesses, and natural systems within Rhode Island to survive, adapt, and grow regardless of chronic stresses and weather events they experience.”

Rhode Island’s definition doesn’t exactly align with the one adopted by the Union of Concerned Scientists. In fact, growth — of the human population, of natural resource consumption — is what feeds climate change.

Adequately addressing global warming's tangle of environmental, societal and economic impacts is no easy task. Sacrifice is part of the solution. Growth is not. There are no solutions that require zero sacrifice and embrace growth.
 While Sandy caused significant damage, the 1938 hurricane eclipsed the 2012 storm in wind speed, height of storm surge and overall strength. Furthermore, coastal development has reclaimed much of the land area impacted by the ’38 storm, so even more property, assets and infrastructure will be at risk should a 100-year-storm hit Rhode Island directly. (CRMC)
While Sandy caused significant damage, the 1938 hurricane eclipsed the 2012 storm in wind speed, height of storm surge and overall strength. Furthermore, coastal development has reclaimed much of the land area impacted by the ’38 storm, so even more property, assets and infrastructure will be at risk should a 100-year-storm hit Rhode Island directly. (CRMC)

The hope with Resilient Rhody is that it doesn’t end up being a political tool strategically unveiled before an election. Most of Rhode Island’s environment-related state reports, guides and plans are celebrated, filed away and then ignored as the local inequality chasm widens and the Ocean State’s natural world is chewed up.

From the outside — this reporter did participate in one of the 10 “Resiliency Roundtables” held statewide to help craft the plan — Resilient Rhody appears to be a hastened attempt to address a serious issue: an overworked state employee given less than a year and very limited funding to identify “projects, policies and legislation, or funding and financing opportunities that the state can take to better prepare for a changing climate.”

One climate-related issue Rhode Island is already well focused on is the vulnerability of wastewater treatment plants, as increasingly intense storms have damaged such facilities and pump stations, which are typically located in low-lying areas.

Of the state’s 19 major treatment facilities, seven are predicted to become predominantly inundated in a catastrophic event, according to a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management study.

“Warren, to its credit, is discussing a new location for its sewage treatment plant,” Fugate said. “That’s what is needed — a change in thinking.”

The Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) is studying vector-borne diseases associated with a warming and wetter local climate and educating the public about the growing problem.

Between 2016 and 2017, Rhode Island saw a 22 percent increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease reported by health-care providers to the DOH. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report stating that the number of cases of diseases that are transmitted by ticks, mosquitos and other insects more than tripled between 2004 and 2016.

“We’re not doing enough yet to address the impacts of climate change, but we have the information to make the necessary moves,” Fugate said. “It takes leadership."

Resilience examples: Multi-stable socio-ecological systems; smart growth; low-impact development; planning that accounts for both acute events such as heavy rains, hurricanes and wildfires that will become more frequent and intense as the climate changes and for chronic events such as rising sea levels, worsening air quality and population migration; regional wastewater treatment facilities.

R.I. efforts: PREP-RI online module series helps municipal decision-makers make effective choices supporting resilience to the impacts of climate change; Rapid Property Assessment and Coastal Exposure (Rapid PACE) helps local officials and property owners view areas exposed to coastal hazards; lauded renewable-energy programs.

Republican Roulette

The progressive web comic about how Republicans play Russian Roulette.

At the Mystic Aquarium

This Saturday is National Social Media Day!

To celebrate, we wanted to highlight our most popular social channels and share with you the best way to discover all things Mystic Aquarium, right in the palm of your hand! 

As you share your summer adventures on Instagram Stories, like your best friends post on Facebook, retweet a great quote on Twitter or watch countless hours of videos on YouTube, know that your friends at Mystic Aquarium are living - and sharing - the Aquarium "social" life as well.
Tail us on social media then discover how you can make the most of Mystic Aquarium's various channels with these mobile tips:

Our Facebook page has it all, so make sure you sea it all! You'll want to Like and Follow Mystic Aquarium. Click the Follow button again to adjust your notification settings.

Twitter is great for quick Aquarium updates on-the-go. In the app, simply tap the bell icon to receive notifications on all of the Aquarium's Tweets.

Subscribe to Mystic Aquarium's YouTube channel to dive deeper into exclusive videos of our exhibits and animals as well as our endeavors in conservation, education, research and more.

After following us on our Instagram page, tap the three dots in the top right corner and select the last two options, which will notify you when we have a new post or story.

Our Pinterest page is loaded with ideas for 'sea snacks,' aquatic crafts, wellness tips and more. Follow our page then edit your settings by tapping the hexagon icon in the top right corner.



This fish may be as tiny as a teacup, but its vibrant colors and patterns really pack a visual punch! Among the most commonly spotted fish on reefs throughout the world, the butterflyfish have a wide variety of colors and patterns. Many species, including those found at the Aquarium, have bands across their eyes and dark spots near their tails. This helps to confuse potential predators since they won't know what to target or where the fish is going.
With such beautiful colors, the butterflyfish is perfect for your next Instagram Story - don't forget to tag us @MysticAquarium!

Pay it forward when paying your bills!
Where ever possible, go green and opt in to receiving electronic bills then pay them online. Beyond saving trees, you'll also:
  • Reduce paper clutter in your home
  • Save time AND money
  • Conserve water (which is used in the print process)
  • Improve the security of your personal information

A message from our friends at The Mystic Hilton

Join The Mystic Hilton as they kick off their Summer Concert Series with Sugar on June 29 and rock through the Summer with free concerts featuring Will Evans, Wicked Peach, Northern Sharks and more before concluding with Another Tequila Sunrise August 31. Click here for a complete schedule from The IRONS.