Coastal flooding, climate change and environmental justice: identifying obstacles and incentives for adaptation in two metropolitan Boston Massachusetts communities

Abstract

We explored the possible future impacts of increased coastal flooding due to sea level rise and the potential adaptation responses of two urban, environmental justice communities in the metropolitan Boston area of Massachusetts. East Boston is predominantly a residential area with some industrial and commercial activities, particularly along the coastal fringe. Everett, a city to the north of Boston, has a diversified industrial and commercial base. While these two communities have similar socioeconomic characteristics, they differ substantially in the extent to which residents would be impacted by increased coastal flooding. In East Boston, a large portion of residents would be flooded, while in Everett, it is the commercial/industrial districts that are primarily vulnerable. Through a series of workshops with residents in each community, we found that the target populations do not have an adaptation perspective or knowledge of any resources that could assist them in this challenge. Furthermore, they do not feel included in the planning processes within their communities. However, a common incentive for both communities was an intense commitment to their communities and an eagerness to learn more and become actively engaged in decisions regarding climate change adaptation. The lessons that can be applied to other studies include 1) images are powerful tools in communicating concepts, 2) understanding existing cultural knowledge and values in adaptation planning is essential to the planning process and 3) engaging local residents at the beginning of the process can create important educational opportunities and develop trust and consensus that is necessary for moving from concept to implementation.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by a grant from the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP; NAO08OAR4310722). We gratefully acknowledge the dedication of the other members of our team: Brenda Cotto-Escalera of NOAH for her tireless leadership in the East Boston community; Antonio Amaya Iraheta and Maria Alamo of La Comunidad for organizing the Everett meetings; Chris Watson, for his mapping expertise and all around helpfulness; Megan Rising, Laura Kuhl and Jeff Cegan of Tufts University for their help with interviews and evacuation research; Matt Schultz of Woods Hole Group, Inc., Scott Goodwin of the University of Maryland College Park and all the East Boston and Everett residents who attended our workshops.

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Correspondence to Ellen M. Douglas.

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Douglas, E.M., Kirshen, P.H., Paolisso, M. et al. Coastal flooding, climate change and environmental justice: identifying obstacles and incentives for adaptation in two metropolitan Boston Massachusetts communities. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 17, 537–562 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-011-9340-8

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Keywords

  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Environmental justice
  • Flooding
  • Sea level rise
  • Storm surge
  • Vulnerability