Log Lunch with Jim Neumann '84: How the State of Massachusetts Sets Priorities for Climate Adaptation and Resilience

Community members gathered for the last Log Lunch before Thanksgiving Break this past Friday, where they were joined by Jim Neumann ’84, a current Principal at Industrial Economics in Cambridge, MA. Jim specializes in climate change impact and adaptation analysis, applied environmental economics, and policy analysis. His most recent work includes support of the USEPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, Climate Change Division, which will quantify climate change risks through multi-sectoral routes of impact.

Jim spoke to the Log Lunch crowd about his work on the Massachusetts Climate Assessment, which he considers “one of the top ten projects of my career.” The assessment aimed to locate the impacts of certain climate change stressors (temperature, precipitation, sea level rise, for example) that become climate hazards which directly impact communities and vulnerable populations across the commonwealth. These assessments then feed into the state climate adaptation and mitigation plan. In their approach, the assessment leaders identified five sectors where climate impacts are occurring: human, infrastructure, natural environment, governance, and economy, to which Jim’s team assigned varying levels of urgency that helped determine a consensus on the state’s priorities. 

Multiple perspectives, from state officials and public stakeholders, were included throughout the assessment process. In particular, Jim highlighted the involvement of 12 community liaisons from different groups within populations throughout the state, which supplied the assessment with an environmentally just perspective. Another way in which Jim’s firm elevated equity throughout their assessment was the measurement of disproportionate exposure to certain groups, a factor that was given “highest priority” in their final determination of the urgency levels of a given stressor. The four categories assessing disproportionality were race/ethnicity, income, English proficiency, and race/ethnicity/income combined.  Any one of these categories found in a given region immediately elevated the urgency for action in the assessment. 

From the assessment, Jim shared the most urgent climate risks facing our region of the Berkshires and Hilltowns. In the human sector of impact, there is expected to be increased infection from Lyme’s disease, as well as a reduction in food safety and security, caused by impacts to the yields of local food producers and food distribution system interruptions in rural areas. Within the infrastructure sector, there is expected to be increased impact from flooding. In the sectors of natural environment, governance, and economy, the assessment predicts degradation of forested areas, climate crisis migration difficulties, and damage to tourist attractions such as shortened ski seasons. 

Despite the apparent severity and urgency produced by these projected impacts, Jim’s work on the assessment provides an excellent example of how climate change mitigation and adaptation needs to be addressed: from a widespread survey of potential dangers that elevates an environmentally and socially just agenda through including multiple perspectives. The distribution of the assessment (which was also translated into 9 languages), also speaks to the central goal of this work: to prioritize the voices of community members in conversation with state governments, facilitating a dialogue that can lead to an adaptation and mitigation plan that serves and protects every part of the Commonwealth.

For the last meal before Thanksgiving break, the Log Lunch team prepared a delicious ginger, sweet potato, and coconut milk stew with lentils and kale from Full Well Farm. Diners also enjoyed a grapefruit and apple salad with chili lime dressing, a farro salad with roasted kabocha squash, a cheese and herb-stuffed flatbread, and a spiced apple pie for desert. All apples were from the Southwestern Vermont Orchards. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Log Lunch director Riku Nakano gave a special shoutout to express gratitude for all of the hardwork that the Log Lunch crew has put in this semester. Their work has most recently been celebrated in articles from the Williams Record and the Berkshire Eagle.