Observers of town government, or probably any level of government, will know that there’s a familiar pattern that plays out day after day, year after year. A crisis happens or a problem arises, and elected officials and town staff work to find a solution. If there’s anything worse than reactive governance, it’s probably government that’s not reactive at all.
Still, when town officials explore really creative, outside-the-box ideas to help meet pressing town needs, that’ll make you sit up and take notice.
And that’s what happened this week when staff and other officials announced that they’ve been investigating a collaboration with one or more research institutions to come to town to study climate change and its effects on coastal residents.
The idea is still germinating, but it’s clearly got great potential. For scientists, the Cape—and Chatham in particular—offers a unique environment for studying the effects of climate change, and what it means for coastal erosion, commercial fishing, endangered species, and coastal sustainability. And they’d do so not just by observing nature, but by interacting with us: the people who are on the front line of ocean warming and sea level rise.
And the timing couldn't have been better, with the United Nations hosting a climate change conference and many news outlets devoting special reports to the topic this week.
This new partnership with academia might take the form of a climate change conference, and we’re lucky to have several world-class resorts nearby, or it might eventually involve the creation of a physical research station in town. Maybe the former water department office on Old Harbor Road would fit the bill, perhaps coupled with the old Marconi “power house” on Ryder’s Cove Road. Whether it’s the preservation and reuse of these buildings or some other incentive, we think the town has lots to sweeten the deal for a major research institute.
But doing so will take lots of community support, and eventually, a financial investment. As selectmen did this week, we wholeheartedly endorse the continued exploration of this partnership. It could help town officials find creative adaptations to some of the key problems that loom large in the decades ahead—as delineated in the recent coastal resiliency report for the town's eastern shoreline—and it might bring some year-round jobs or other economic stimuli. And in the long term, Chatham could do its part to help the rest of Planet Earth.