A press conference held Monday afternoon at Aspray Boat House on the 5th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy began with state representative Jim Langevin pointing out the coincidence of a powerful storm hitting the area just hours earlier.
He then, along with other Rhode Island politicians and climate change reform advocates, discussed a recent amendment introduced by Langevin and passed through the House Armed Services Committee in Washington D.C. in June. The amendment requires the Department of Defense to address climate change as a national security threat.
In what Langevin called a “tremendous example of what can be achieved with a little bipartisanship,” the amendment was supported by every Democrat in the House and 46 Republicans when there was an attempt to kill it on the House floor, which representative David Cicilline said was “one of the only [Democratic] votes that Republicans joined in on.”
“Obviously this is an important topic,” Langevin told the crowd. “We’re talking about climate change and how it’s affecting Rhode Island, how it’s affecting our country, and how it’s affecting national security, as well as the environment and the economic impacts.”
Six speakers, which included Mayor Scott Avedesian, addressed topics including the resiliency of Rhode Island to climate change, as well as the economic, environmental and militaristic consequences of climate change.
“Instead of consistently just saying, ‘Ok we know that the modeling shows that such and such an area will be underwater or X amount of miles will be affected,’ Congressman Langevin’s legislation has really looked at tackling it from another direction as well,” Avedesian said.
The mayor pointed out Hurricane Harvey, which he says reminded people around here of the 2010 floods and of Hurricane Sandy. He also said that the city has been working with URI’s Green Infrastructure program on how to combat climate change in the Oakland Beach area.
“Climate change is a serious national security issue, and it’s not just an issue with coastlines,” Avedesian said. “If you think about a three-foot rise in sea level, that will threaten the operations of more than 128 United States military sites. When you start looking at those types of numbers you know that we have to take some action and start thinking about how we’ll protect ourselves for the future.”
Grover Fugate, the executive director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), talked about the shorelines in the state, saying that flooding from the ocean will only get worse.
“Just sea level,” which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts will rise up to 12 feet in the near future, Fugate said, “will add billions and billions of dollars to the budget just to go back and try to deal with these sites. And unless we get a grip on climate change, it doesn’t stop. By 2200, according to NOAA, sea levels will rise up to 40 feet…many still don’t understand the profound consequences we’re going to face.”
Talking about the local impact of the amendment was Jonathan Stone, Executive Director of Save the Bay. He said that the effects of climate change impact the aquatic environment of Narragansett Bay, including a die-off of seagrass beds and a change in the fishing and shell-fishing industries, including fewer lobster and winter flounder, but more black seabass and blue crab.
Stone also pointed out the implications of climate change in Rhode Island on the U.S. naval bases here, specifically the one in Newport.
“Every commander of every U.S. navy vessel in the active fleet comes through Newport,” he said. “It is a major center for the training of our naval personal and the vulnerability of that base is crucial to the economy, to the environment and to the U.S. defense posture.”
Shaun O’Rourke, who is state’s first chief of stormwater and resiliency, said that people around the state are ready to act on climate change, and must do so because of the military bases in Newport and Quonset that are important to our national security and economy.
Each speaker touted the work of representative Langevin in getting this amendment passed by the House, discussing how climate change is important to the state, the country and the world on a number of national security levels. Representative Cicilline added that this is a chance for the United States to lead the world on this issue after President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement.
Langevin said, “Now that congress acknowledges it, it is my hope that the President does the same thing.”