2015 Current Issue
Climate Crisis: Taking Action in Massachusetts Communities

What is the Massachusetts Envirothon Current Issue?

In this component of the Envirothon program, teams research a current environmental issue as it occurs in their own community, then prepare a presentation on their findings and proposed solutions.  Each year the Massachusetts Envirothon Committee takes the NCF's Envirothon's Current Issue and works to ensure that the topic is relevant to ALL Massachusetts communities.  Wide-ranging community research is encouraged, including field study, interviews of scientists, advocates, local officials, and residents, internet and library searches, map reading, and visits to town hall.

Many teams take what they learn in their current issue research and apply it in a community action project.  Any team that demonstrates high research standards in their current issue work, or applies their Envirothon learning in a service project, is eligible for an Envirothon Community Award.

At the state competition in May, the team makes a presentation of their Current Issue findings  and recommendations to a panel of judges (including natural resource managers, local and state officials, environmental advocates, and others) who score them and provide helpful feedback on their knowledge, proposed solutions, and presentation skill.  A highlight of the experience is the interaction between the teams and the judges when the scoring is completed.  After the morning competition, teams have a chance to share their current issue research and community action projects informally at a lunchtime "roundtables" session.

2015 Mass Envirothon Current Issue:
Climate Crisis: Taking Action in Massachusetts Communities

It’s not an exaggeration: climate change is the greatest environmental challenge humankind has ever faced. An overall warming of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, set in motion by human activity, particularly our burning of fossil hydrocarbons, is causing a host of changes that threaten our communities and the ecosystems we depend upon.

We are beginning to rise to the challenge, but the task is enormous. While there will be no “solving” this problem in our lifetimes, there are many, many ways to take positive action. There is much we can do that will brighten the future for ourselves and generations to come.

While the problems require a global response, there is an important role for every community. Massachusetts state government, municipalities, and citizen groups are already providing some leadership regionally.

We need to implement strategies BOTH to prevent accelerating climate change AND to adapt to a changing world. Both kinds of action are necessary. Many strategies can accomplish both.

What are the best strategies for natural resource management in an era of climate change? What infrastructure will be needed to protect communities? Science is turning its attention to these questions and is shedding new light every day, but changes are accelerating, and everything affects everything else. Fortunately, many conservation practices for soil and water, forests and agriculture, and biodiversity, are relevant to these changing conditions. And many green infrastructure technologies that we have known about for years are proving themselves in this new era. It’s time to apply them more widely!

Many strategies involve radical rethinking of our energy use. New developments in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies can make a difference. But many aspects of our way of life are simply not sustainable at the lower level of energy consumption required to slow climate change. We need to consider how to live well with less. Many communities are developing new and creative ways to make the transition by building stronger, more resilient communities.

“Resilience” is a term often used in describing positive responses to climate change on the individual, species, community, and ecosystem levels. The term applies to people as well as nature. It is worth pondering the meanings of this term before it becomes overused!

Within human communities, there is growing talk of “climate justice”: How can we ensure that the pain caused by climate change does not fall disproportionately, affecting some more than others? How can we ensure fairness?

The challenges will be different across Massachusetts. To prepare for the 2015 Envirothon, teams will need to get out and investigate what is actually happening in their communities: What are likely to be the most significant problems this community will encounter? What ecosystem changes are expected? What ecosystem services and infrastructure are vulnerable? What kinds of action are recommended? What choices are being made, and what actions are being taken, both helpful and unhelpful? Who is involved? What does resilience and climate justice mean for this community? What are the questions and controversies? In what ways is the community coming together in a positive response?

Mass Envirothon encourages teams to take these questions and run with them. Many teams take what they learn in their current issue research and apply it in a community action project. Any team that demonstrates high research standards in their current issue work, or applies their Envirothon learning in a service project, is eligible for an Envirothon Community Award.

Resources to be added in the near future!

2015 Mass Envirothon Current Issue Materials

Background and Resources for Community Research (2015) updated Feb15
2014 Current Issue Problem (To be updated March 15)
Presentation Score Sheet 14 (To be updated March 15)
Presentation Review Sheet 14 (To be updated March 15)
Guidelines for Judging
Mass Envirothon Community Research and Action Awards
(including a checklist for community research)

• Roundtables at the Mass Envirothon







Presentations/Handouts from workshops

Dr. William Hansen, Department of Earth, Environment and Physics; Worcester State College
Free Geospatial Technologies for environmental applications

Julie Rawson, Education and Executive Director, & Jack Kittredge, Policy Director;
Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter
Agricultural Practices and their Impact on Carbon and Climate Change

Madeleine Charney, WEB Du Bois Libary, UMass
Information Gathering on Climate and Energy

Aisling O’Shea, Global Warming Solutions Manager, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA): Reaching our goals for greenhouse gas reductions in 2020 & 2050

Vandana Rao, Asst. Director for Water Policy, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Climate Change and its Impact on Water Resources in Massachusetts

Ezra Small, Sustainability Manager, UMass Amherst
Green Infrastructure: An Overview of What Communities are doing to become more Climate Resilient

Michelle Staudinger, Science Coordinator, Northeast Climate Science Center;
Adjunct Faculty UMass Amherst Dept of Environmental Conservation
Biodiversity in a Changing Climate (powerpoint)
Biodiversity in a changing climate: a synthesis of current and projected trends in the US (pdf)

Nathan T Nesbitt, Boston College Physics Department & Climate Justice @ Boston College
For presentations and videos, click on the relevant links on Nate's blog
Getting Out of Fossil Fuels - Building a Grassroots Movement
Political Power of Individuals: Shaping Energy Policy in MA

Michael Rawlins, Assistant Professor, Department of Geosciences; Manager, Climate System Research Center
Earth's Climate, The Carbon Cycle, & Recent Climate Changes Across the Northeast US

Presentations/Handouts from workshops in 2014

Gerald Palano, MDAR
Energy Sustainability for Agriculture

Madeleine Charney, WEB Du Bois Libary, UMass
Empowerment through Information

Lisa Damon, Farm to Cafeteria
Farm to Cafeteria

Julie Rawson, NOFA/Mass
Livestock and Poultry

Delia DeLongchamp, MDAR
Agricultural Land Protection

Other Useful Resources

John Gerber, Stockbridge School of Agriculture, UMass
Sustainable Agriculture Program blog

Want to see a team in action?

Watch a video of the Quabbin Regional High School Team presentation
(2012 highest score for CI presentation)

Score them yourselves using the 2012 score sheet.

Here's a link to the 2012 Current Issue Problem

Relevant Resources from past years

Paul Barten, UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Conservation

Why forests provide the best protection for water resources (essay)
The conservation of forests and water in New England . . . again (essay)
Effects of development on groundwater (diagram)
Summary of Key Hydrological Characteristics in Forested Watersheds
Land Use Effects on Streamflow and Water Quality in the NE US Fig 8.8

Past Current Issues

2014 Sustainable Local Agriculture in Massachusetts Resources / Problem
2013 Trees, Forests and Sustainability in Massachusetts Resources / Problem
2012 Sustainable Stormwater Management Resources / Problem
2011 Wetland Protection
Resources / Problem
2010 Groundwater Protection
Resources / Problem
2009 Renewable Energy: Getting it Right, Ecologically & Economically Resources / Problem
2008 Outdoor Recreation and the Environment Resources/ Problem
2007 Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy for MA Communities Resources / Problem
2006 Acting Locally for Climate Protection Resources / Problem
2005 Protecting Cultural Landscapes Resources / Problem
2004 Natural Resource Management in the Urban Environment Resources / Problem
2003 Strengthening Local Food Systems Resources / Problem
2002 Introduced Species and Biodiversity Resources / Problem
2001 Stormwater Management Resources / Problem
2000 Wetland Conservation
1999 Open Space Planning
1998 Watershed Management
1997 Pest Management
1996 Community Wastewater Treatment and Disposal


For questions regarding the current issue, please contact
Will Snyder