• Why we must act
    May 10,2014

    A report this week from the White House speaks specifically to what climate change means for Vermont and the Northeast. The results, while predictable in many respects, are telling. As resilient as we are to changes in the weather, even the most die-hard Vermonter must admit this latest cycle has been extreme.

    Gov. Peter Shumlin was quoted as saying, “This assessment tells us, in unprecedented detail, what we already know in Vermont: that climate change is affecting not just our state, but every part of our country and every sector of our economy. The assessment makes it clear that climate change is not a distant threat, it is affecting us right now.”

    In response to the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, the members of Vermont’s congressional delegation renewed their calls for more controls to stem the threats now facing the state as well as climate effects on agriculture, wildlife and the economy.   

    The Obama administration released the report, calling it “the most comprehensive scientific assessment ever generated of climate change and its impacts across every region of America and major sectors of the U.S. economy.”

    The findings underscore the need for urgent action to combat the threats from climate change, protect citizens and communities today, and build a sustainable future for children.

    According to the report: “Sixty-four million people are concentrated in the Northeast. The high-density urban coastal corridor ... is one of the most developed environments in the world. It contains a massive, complex, and long-standing network of supporting infrastructure. The Northeast also has a vital rural component, including large expanses of sparsely populated but ecologically and agriculturally important areas.”

    The report suggests our region depends on aging infrastructure that has already been stressed by climate hazards, including heat waves and heavy downpours. “The Northeast has experienced a greater recent increase in extreme precipitation than any other region in the U.S.; between 1958 and 2010, the Northeast saw more than a 70 percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events. … This increase ... creates increased risks. For all of these reasons, public health, agriculture, transportation, communications, and energy systems in the Northeast all face climate-related challenges.”

    In addition, agriculture, fisheries and ecosystems will be increasingly compromised over the next century by climate change’s negative effects, it states. “Farmers can explore new crop options, but these adaptations are not cost- or risk-free. Moreover, inequities exist in adaptive capacity, which could be overwhelmed by changing climate,” the report concludes.

    The report identified several areas affecting Vermont in particular: water, health (including ozone levels and other pollutants), the effects on lakes, transportation (specifically damage to roads) and ecosystems.

    Many Vermonters have noticed this.

    “Changes in species distribution by elevation are occurring; a Vermont study found an upslope shift of 299 to 390 feet in the boundary between northern hardwoods and boreal forest on the western slopes of the Green Mountains between 1964 and 2004. Wildflowers and woody perennials are blooming earlier and migratory birds are arriving sooner. Because species differ in their ability to adjust, asynchronies ... can develop, increasing species and ecosystem vulnerability,” the report concluded.

    It recommends what Vermont has already been striving toward: cutting carbon pollution by investing in clean energy (including renewables) and improving efficiency.

    It has some lawmakers rightfully fearful.

    “This important report is another loud and clear warning that greenhouse gases are rising faster than ever and our refusal to recognize and deal with the crisis could have catastrophic consequences,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a member of the Senate energy and environment committees. “It is no longer acceptable for a majority in Congress to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence.”

    Rep. Peter Welch went further, driving the point home: “This report should put to rest once and for all the theoretical debate over the existence of climate change. The undeniable fact is that climate change is real and having an impact on our environment, our economy and our health. … Our farmers are challenged by unpredictable growing seasons. And the futures of our ski areas and maple industry are threatened. The good news is that there is still time to act.”

    And, as a state, we must. Otherwise, the fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment might not be as hopeful.

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