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Everybody Talks About Extreme Weather, But Nobody Does Anything About It

Had Mark Twain attended “Adaptation, Insurance, Transit: Responding to Challenges from Extreme Weather & Climate Change” on February 27, he would have understood that we no longer have the luxury of only talking about the weather. 

We are in a position to make choices about how we respond to climate change and doing nothing is a choice, and a very expensive choice, for future generations, as Rachel Cleetus, Senior Climate Economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, reminded the audience.  In the US we focus on emergency responses to extreme weather events, instead of preparing in advance for predictable effects of climate change, such as flooding of major metropolitan areas.  UCS makes the science around climate change understandable, through webinars and other outreach to the public, to help governments and individuals prepare for the catastrophic consequences of exceeding the global warming target of 2 degrees Celsius in our or our children’s lifetime.

Insurance risk management and risk transfer are crucial to US climate resiliency and the insurance sector and policymakers must recognize that the insurance industry needs to be part of the solution, advised Cynthia McHale, Director of the Insurance Program at Ceres, Inc.  Although there are some leaders among insurance companies, many US insurers have a long way to go in acknowledging and responding to the clear correlation between greenhouse gas concentrations and extreme weather events in the US.  Ceres’ 2012 report, “Stormy Future for US Property/Casualty Insurers: The Growing Costs and Risks of Extreme Weather Events,” discusses the challenges for insurers in pricing, underwriting and incentivizing behavior to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Insurers could play a major role in curbing the effects of climate change by developing innovative insurance products, promoting loss prevention and adaptation and investing strategically to decrease carbon emissions and Ceres is working with the industry and policymakers on those issues. Immediate action is needed: global reinsurer Munich Re’s recent study concluded that the increase in extreme weather events is making North America a risky place to insure.

A new coalition of 30 groups is dedicated to decreasing greenhouse gases from transportation in Massachusetts, said Kristina Egan, Director of Transportation for Massachusetts.  The transportation system in Massachusetts is broken and that vulnerability compounds the effects of climate events.  The mass transit system, which is to be used for evacuation, is a greater concern than the road system.  First we need inter-agency and intra-agency coordination and mapping of infrastructure vulnerabilities.  Once we have strengthened what we have now, we need to adapt the transportation system for climate change.  Other cities in the US and elsewhere are far ahead of Boston in planning for climate change.  Fixing and adapting our transportation system, which is the largest source of greenhouse gases in Massachusetts, is critical.  The key thing to change is vehicle miles traveled.  Ms. Egan urged the audience to lobby their state legislators to increase funding for public transportation.

Julie Taylor (who opened the program with the Mark Twain quote) and Elisabeth DeLisle, Co-Chairs of the Environmental Law Section Public Policy Committee, which sponsored the program, will consider how the BBA could create opportunities to not just talk about, but actually do something to address climate change and extreme weather events.

By: Nancy D. Israel , Law Office of Nancy D. Israel, who will be joining Ceres in the Insurance Program in the near future.

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Environmental Law Committees

  • Air Quality and Climate Change Committee
    This committee reviews federal and local air pollution control, including source permitting, air quality planning, transportation planning, compliance monitoring, hazardous air pollutants and indoor air pollution.

    Contact Information

    Marilyn Levenson

    Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

    Aladdine Joroff

    Harvard Law School

  • Energy and Telecommunications Law Committee
    This committee addresses regulatory and related issues affecting the natural gas, electric and telecommunications industries in Massachusetts — on the federal level and in other jurisdictions. Members typically practice before the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and state and federal courts.

    Contact Information

    Jamie M. Tosches

    Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General

    (617) 727-2200

    James M. Avery

    Pierce Atwood LLP

    (617) 488-8125

  • Environmental Law Public Policy Committee
    The BBA is very active in legislative and regulatory changes. Environmental attorneys are asked to lend their expertise.
  • Environmental Law Public Service Committee
    This committee has a number of annual service events including planting trees for Earth Day and volunteering with the Food Project. The committee also focuses on practice-specific pro bono projects and brown bag programming.

    Contact Information

    Mina S. Makarious

    Anderson & Kreiger LLP

    (617) 621-6525

    Korrin Petersen

    Buzzards Bay Coalition

    (508) 999-6363

  • Environmental Litigation Committee
    This committee focuses on Chapter 21E, CERCLA, insurance, clean air and clean water litigation.

    Contact Information

    Seth Schofield

    Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General

    (617) 727-2200

    Katherine Kimball

    Ball Corporation Headquarters

    (303) 460-2589

  • Hazardous and Solid Waste Committee
    This committee informs members about issues relating to federal and Massachusetts laws governing oil, hazardous materials and hazardous waste, including CERCLA and Chapter 21E.

    Contact Information

    Bonnie Heiple

    Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP

    (617) 526-6745

    John D. Beling

    Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

  • International Environmental Law Committee
    This committee is for members interested in international environmental issues and the laws of foreign countries.

    Contact Information

    Stuart L. Canton

    (781) 652-0135

    Cicely Ott Parseghian

    Foley Hoag LLP

    (617) 832-3038

  • Steering Committee
    The leadership committee of the Section organizes programs and discusses policy. To inquire about opportunities, please contact the Section Co-Chairs.
  • Wetlands, Waterways and Water Quality Committee
    This committee keeps members abreast of changes in local, state and federal statutes, regulations and by-laws relating to discharges to surface water, groundwater and wastewater treatment plants.

    Contact Information

    Rebekah Lacey

    Anderson & Kreiger LLP

    (617) 621-6500

    Margaret M. Callanan

    Executive Office of Environmental Affairs

    (617) 626-1146