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Cambridge City Council Prepares For Climate Change

The Sullivan Chamber at the Cambridge City Hall before a City Council meeting in 2015.
The Sullivan Chamber at the Cambridge City Hall before a City Council meeting in 2015. By Katherine W.K. Smith
By Patricia J. Liu, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council discussed proposed measures to mitigate the effects of climate change at a working meeting Monday.

The Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan, drafted in Nov. 2017, outlines steps the City of Cambridge can take to address potential issues created by climate change. The plans lists four major concerns for the city: increased temperatures, precipitation, rising sea levels, and storm surges.

The plan states that, by 2070, the city will likely see nearly three months during which temperatures reach over 90 degrees. By comparison, 2017 boasted just two weeks with temperatures over 90. Additionally, flooding in Alewife will most likely increase, potentially bypassing the Amelia Earhart Dam.

John Bolduc, Cambridge’s environmental planner, said the city’s climate change plan highlighted many different strategies to protect the city from these environmental threats. The current version of the plan focuses on a prepared community, adapted buildings, resilient infrastructure, and resilient ecosystems, he said.

“The plan is based on the assumption is that there are no silver bullets, that we have to take a multi-pronged approach and do many things in combination to create a resilient Cambridge,” Bolduc said.

Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said the city and its citizens have made climate change work a “priority.” DePasquale said he thinks the city is well equipped to study the consequences of climate change and to prepare ahead of time.

“We are ahead of most cities and towns, and we’ve had a long history taking a look at the potential impacts of climate change,” DePasquale said.

The city has practiced climate change preparedness for several years, with efforts stretching back to at least 2015. That year the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment also reported four main climate change issues identified by the city. Part one of the CCVA, which examines heat and precipitation, was released in Nov. 2015 while part two, which examines sea levels and storm surges, was released in Feb. 2017.

The CCVA describes itself as a “technical foundation” for the CCPR Plan, providing the facts about the impact of climate change on Cambridge. According to the CCVA, research conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that climate change may be impossible to fully prevent.

Bolduc said he thinks the scientific consensus on the existence and the future of climate change is clear. But he said predicting how and when the effects will affect Cambridge is more difficult.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about how much change we will experience and the timing of those changes,” Bolduc said. “We’re basically trying to plan for a moving target.”

Cambridge is currently advocating to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to continue assessing threats posed by climate change. Assistant City Manager for Community Development Iram Farooq said the development of a focused mitigation plan through the CCPR Plan is also important work.

“Sometimes it’s hard to think, ‘What might be the silver lining here?’” Farooq said. “But truly the fact that we’re doing this work at the same time that we’re doing our comprehensive plan is a huge silver lining.”

DePasquale said he hopes Cambridge’s CCPR Plan will help other regions, too.

“We are one of the leaders in this area in terms of trying to understand it—to see not only how it’s going to affect Cambridge but also how it’s going to affect every community and how we’re all in this together,” DePasquale said.

—Staff writer Patricia J. Liu can be reached at

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