• Study eyes effects of climate change in Vt.
     | June 11,2014

    BURLINGTON — Vermont’s warming climate will be a boon to the ski industry in the short term but will cause more extreme weather that will hurt agriculture and infrastructure, according to a report released Tuesday by the University of Vermont.

    The Vermont Climate Assessment is the first study to look at climate change at the state level. It traces trends and includes predictions of how continued warming will affect everything from tourism to agriculture.

    “The climate has already changed substantially in Vermont,” said Gillian Galford, a climate scientist with UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and the lead author of the report. “Spring is coming seven days earlier across the state, and that has happened in just the last three decades.”

    The study — which predicts the state’s temperatures will rise 4 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100 — includes a wealth of climate history data from the National Weather Service, as well as local data from farmers such as Ray Allen, who owns an apple orchard in South Hero and whose trees are blooming a full week earlier than they did in 1970.

    “I’m very thankful for global warming, because 17,000 years ago we were under 2½ to 3 miles of ice, and that would make it hard to grow apples,” Allen said wryly. “But the speed it’s happening now is too much.”

    Allen noted that while the growing season is longer, his trees are susceptible to more extreme crop-killing weather than in the past.

    Julie Nash, a doctoral candidate at UVM who wrote the section of the study dealing with agriculture, said the higher temperatures mean farmers will be able to plant new crops, such as grapes or peaches, but increased spring flooding will force farmers to delay their planting.

    Andy Nash, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington, said his records show an increase in extreme weather. Since 2000, Vermont has seen 20 official disaster declarations, including nine in the past four years, with 80 percent of the declarations due to flooding.

    With higher temperatures come warmer winters. Nash referred to this past winter, which many Vermonters saw as being particularly cold but would have been typical for the 1930s through the ’50s.

    “What happened is, with climate change, we’re becoming more acclimated to warmer winters,” Nash said.

    Sam Carlson is a UVM graduate student who wrote the study’s chapter on how climate change will affect tourism and recreation.

    “Overall, it’s a positive outlook for recreation and tourism, which I was surprised to find,” said Carlson, who said the ski industry is entering a “climate change sweet spot” as precipitation is expected to increase, especially in mountain areas where it will fall as snow.

    Within 40 years, however, higher temperatures will cause that precipitation to fall as rain instead, Carlson said.

    It is unclear what Vermonters can do to halt climate change. According to Galford, 99.9 percent of scientists concur that climate change is caused by the introduction of carbon into the atmosphere as a result of the use of fossil fuels. However, as the state with the third most forest coverage, Vermont is already essentially carbon neutral, Galford said.

    David Blittersdorf, CEO of AllEarth Renewables, said slowing climate change would require radical changes, not just for Vermonters but for everyone, such as clustered development to allow people to abandon their cars and use mass transportation.

    “We need revolution, not evolution,” said Blittersdorf, who also proposed taxing carbon emissions at $100 a ton. “I drive a Prius, but that’s not going to move the needle.”

    josh.ogorman @rutlandherald.com

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