The mural on the old Paint Factory overlooking Gloucester Harbor tells a story we’ve all been hearing for years, but in a bracing new way.
The work by Jim Seavey on behalf of the Cape Ann Climate Change Network climbs almost halfway up the fading red side of the waterfront icon. It shows the predicted sea level rise over the next 80 years, and the projections are sobering. Even on its calmest days, the Atlantic Ocean of 2100 would lap against the second floor windows of the factory and leave much of the current historic waterfront, from the Gorton’s seafood plant to the iconic Man at the Wheel statue, under water.
The height of the mural surprised Iain Kerr of Ocean Alliance, which owns and is headquartered in the old paint manufactory.
“It is much bigger than I thought it was going to be,” he told reporter Taylor Ann Bradford. “But that is almost part of the story because you hear all of these stories about climate change and then you actually see it happening ...”
It isn’t just happening in Gloucester, where storm surges over the past few decades have brought seawater further inland. One of the indelible images of January 2018, when dozens of Cape Ann residents who moved their cars to the high school parking lot to keep them safe from the storm instead lost them to flooding. Plum Island is routinely cut off from the mainland during storms, and Crane Beach in Ipswich will continue to erode dramatically, adding to the 84 football fields of beach that have already been lost. A 2018 study found that by the end of the century, sea level rise could wash out homes in Salisbury every other week.
The question now is how to adapt to the change while working to blunt its worst effects. And those looking for a hopeful path forward would do well to follow the example set by the cities of Beverly and Salem, which are working to coordinate efforts. The city councils in the two historic cities — both nearing 400th anniversaries — held a joint meeting for the first time in their history Wednesday night. The topic was climate resiliency.
“We’re hoping this meeting could really ensure we’re building awareness and growing advocacy for a climate change agenda, and that we can dual-track it,” Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said of the cities’ “Resilient Together” efforts. “It’s a lot easier to jump into the deep end of the pool when you’re doing it with someone else.”
Officials shared details on projects such as Beverly’s new carbon-neutral police station and Salem’s green building ordinance. The cities also share a goal of cutting fossil fuel usage to 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.
There can be more to the initiative than sharing ideas. Beverly’s Ward 4 city councilor, Scott Houseman, said the partnership between the two cities gives them a stronger voice on Beacon Hill.
“I’m wondering what we can do to combine the leverages, if you will, or the strengths of our common voices, our two cities, to help push upon a resilience and clean energy future at the State House,” he said.
While climate change is a global problem, the responsibility for addressing its effects, fair or not, has fallen to local governments. You don’t call the United Nations when your basement floods for the fifth time in a single spring. You call your ward councilor. And the more municipal officials can work together, like they are beginning to do in Beverly and Salem, the better chance we’ll have of adapting to the future.
The inevitability of the ocean’s power reminded Seavey of his time growing up in Rockport.
“Every day I would go down to Old Garden Beach and build sandcastles, dams and moats and then the next day it would all be gone,” he said. “The tide doesn’t stop. It’s going to keep coming.”