Metro, Newton

City Councilor Advocates For Aggressive Climate Action in Newton Mothers Out Front Event

Temperatures are rising across the globe, and Newton is no exception, according to Ward 2 Councilor Emily Norton.

“We used to have approximately nine [days over 90 degrees per year],” Norton said. “In the coming two decades, that could get up to 30 days. By the end of the century, when my grandchildren [are] middle age … you could have three months of days over 90 degrees.”

Norton, who also serves as executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), led a discussion about environmental issues in the Newton community at a Newton Mothers Out Front chapter meeting held over Zoom Tuesday night. 

Norton was joined by Robert Kearns, a climate resilience specialist at the CRWA, Waltham City Councilor-At-Large Colleen Bradley-MacArthur, Melissa Brown, and Ward 3 Councilor Julia Malakie.

Throughout the meeting, Norton referred to the City of Newton’s Climate Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation and Resiliency Action Plan from 2018, which reported on specific climate issues, such as extreme heat and increased flooding in Newton, as well as possible steps that can be taken to address them.

Citing the plan, Norton said that in addition to a rise in temperature, Newton is also expected to see an overall wetter climate in years to come as a result of heavier storms, particularly in the winter and spring.

Newton has also consistently reported major droughts over the past seven years, despite not having previously seen one since the 1960s, according to graphics Norton provided at the meeting.

“If you look at the names of towns in Massachusetts—Bridgewater, Brookfield, Brookline, Medway, Medford … so many of them were named for water,” Norton said. “We’re naturally very watery.”

Dams in Newton also pose an environmental issue as they raise the temperature of river water, damaging natural flora and fauna in the ecosystem in the process, according to Norton. 

“Overall, dams are very bad for rivers and also bad for keeping people safe in the climate era,” Norton said. 

In the face of such climate crises, Norton emphasized the importance of staying resilient, citing the work of the CRWA and its successful undertaking of a goal previously thought impossible by many members of the general public: cleaning the Charles River. 

In 1995, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—alongside other government agencies and nonprofit groups like the CRWA—launched the Clean Charles River Initiative with the goal of making the Charles River both fishable and swimmable, according to its website.

As a result, the Charles River decreased its total amount of sewage from over 1.7 billion gallons of sewage per year prior to 1988 to 30 million by 2017, allowing for the eventual developments of the Charles River Esplanade, Boston’s Seaport District, and harbor beaches, Norton said.

“I like to remind people that we’ve done amazing things,” Norton said. “And we can do amazing things when we put our minds to it because we’ve got some significant challenges ahead of us.”

Norton also acknowledged that there are two sides of climate action, as stated in the 2018 report: mitigation and adaptation.

“You’ve got your mitigation … so preventing [and] stopping climate change at the source, trying to get off of fossil fuels,” Norton said. “The other half or other side would be adaptation or resilience.”

Norton did make some critiques of the report, however, specifically mentioning her issues with the tone of the language used. 

“I found that language not quite alarmist enough,” Norton said. “I think we need to be acting like our pants are on fire, our hair is on fire, something’s on fire that there’s a level of urgency.”

December 10, 2022