Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo‘s new Chief Resiliency Officer Shawn O’Roarke held the first of a series of ten Resiliency Roundtables at the Save the Bay Campus in the Port of Providence Wednesday evening, drawing a crowd of just over 50 people interested in finding solutions to the effects of climate change.
Participants were divided into three groups and each group brainstormed ideas and concerns around climate change impacts on Infrastructure/Environment, Community/Health/Equity and Economic Development. (The ideas brainstormed can be seen in the photos at the bottom of the page.)
The discussions were very far reaching. One aspect of climate change is the long term effects of rising waters and longer summers. Another aspect is the frequency and likelihood of catastrophic storm surges, like those suffered in Houston, Texas; Florida and Puerto Rico. These are related but separate concerns. It was quickly understood in the room that the effects of climate change will be worse for vulnerable and poorer populations.
This Roundtable focused on Central Falls, Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, Providence, North Providence, and Warwick. O’Roarke kept the focus on these towns. Future roundtables are or will be scheduled across the state, as can be seen in the picture below:
The goals, besides the creation a report for the Governor in July, 2018, include:
- Enhanced understanding of the priorities and challenges across stakeholders and geography
- Assessment of the ability to address challenges with current resources
- United connection of stakeholders, projects, and programs for collaborative action on resilience priorities and challenges
There were some criticisms expressed at the meeting concerning the lack of access to the venue itself, and the lack of notice in communities of color. The Save the Bay campus is not easily accessible via public transportation. The best bus route requires a 15 minute walk at the end. As O’Roarke acknowledged, the turnout was very good, but notice for the event was short: less than a week. Attendees were overwhelmingly white and not representative of the diversity of Central Falls, Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, Providence, North Providence, and Warwick. Then there was the time the meeting was held: 5-7 pm is hardly convenient for working people. Many who were interested arrived late due to rush hour traffic.
Other concerns were brought up by Monica Huertas representing No LNG in PVD, who were holding a protest outside Save the Bay before the meeting began. Resiliency by itself means little if Rhode Island is not willing to work on mitigating climate change by taking a stand against the continued expansion of fracked gas infrastructure in our state. Huertas specifically mentioned the liquefaction project currently proposed by National Grid for the Port of Providence.
Huertas also advocated for a “just transition,” saying that putting solar panels and storage batteries up across the state is a great idea, as long as we can ethically source the materials and make sure that there isn’t a child in Africa, for instance, mining rare metals at the cost of his life to ensure our resiliency.
Parag Agrawal, who heads the Division of Statewide Planning in the Department of Administration, is the vice-chair of EC4 (Rhode Island Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council), and a member of the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), the governmental body that is deciding the fate of Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant planned for Burrillville.
Agrawal said that what EC4 is looking for is a “plan that will make Rhode Island much more resilient to climate change.”
Thinking of Agrawal’s comments in light of the concerns expressed by Huertas and others regarding mitigation of climate change put the entire exercise into a new light. Resiliency means dealing with the effects of a problem. Mitigation goes towards the cause of the problem. Think about nuclear weapons. Mitigation is taking nuclear weapons off the table and preventing their development and use. Resiliency is “Duck and Cover” and fallout shelters in public schools.