Thursday, July 12, 2007
Overheated, Overpopulated, and Underwatered
The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report this week, titled “Confronting Climate Change in the US Northeast.” This is a follow up to a report released last fall that used climate modeling to determine how greenhouse gas emissions could change NH's climate. The new study gave a worst case scenario, a look at what is likely to happen if we do nothing, and the better case scenario, that looks at what is likely to happen if we at least make a cursory effort at change. It's not a pretty picture either way, but better is always...well, better.
Anyone who has lived here for a few decades and pays attention is aware that our winters are not what they once were. It's why snow making was invented. There was no snow making when I was a kid, not because we were technologically behind – but because we didn't need it. We had snow. This lack of snow affects our tourist economy, and the lack of snow melt affects our water supply. Most business people here grasp this – the MWV Chamber of Commerce is working with the Carbon Coalition. Chambers of Commerce are not known for being liberal organizations full of wet-brained hippies. They're pretty darned conservative, yet they understand that the future of our local economy is at stake.
The worst case scenario in the UCS report looks at how the growing season, the crops, and the plant life could be changed. Apples and potatoes are cool weather crops. Cranberries and blueberries require cold weather periods in order to bear fruit. Maple syrup requires cold weather. Cows produce less milk when it's hot, and fewer calves. We currently experience about 10 days per summer with temperatures over 90 degrees. That would increase to 70 days per summer, with 25 days topping 100 degrees.
This change in temperature will change our landscape. An insect called the wooly adelgid that has wiped out stands of hemlocks as far north as southern NH. Scientists believe that they've stopped there because the cold winters kill them. With warmer winters, the pest will likely move north, killing the hemlock trees. Warmer temperatures will bring other pests, and require more pesticide use. Those pesticides wash off, and travel into the water table. A warmer climate will have a negative impact on our hardwood trees - the maples, beech, and birch. The logging industry would disappear, along with the spruce and fir trees. The worst case scenario predicts a two month winter season by the end of this century. That means no more skiing in NH, and very little snowmobiling.
The report also pointed out that we don't have to get to the worse case scenario. Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases will lessen the injury to our northern climate in the future. We have choices to make. The hysteria from the flat earth society “no such thing as climate change” is dangerous, and needs to be ignored. There are a few ways this can play out – the “good thing we did what we did, because look what's happening,” scenario, the “oops – I guess we didn't have to do all that,” scenario, or the “oh-oh, we didn't do anything, and now look at the mess we're in,” scenario. Which one do you want your descendants to be living in?
We have an opportunity to plan intelligently for the future, something that we've seldom been guilty of in Happy Valley. I've been following the proposed development of a municipal water supply over on the West Side Road with a watchful eye. This is not something that should be done in haste, because this doesn't just impact the folks on Birch Hill. A municipal water supply affects everyone in the area. A private company can always be sold. Who will own the water? Will Nestle, or one of the big water companies be able to buy the water and sell it in bulk overseas? Without the snow melt we have had in the past, the water supply is compromised. What will this mean to the people living along the Saco? Pennichuck may say it won't pump water out of the proposed Saco well site – but who is to say Pennichuck won't be sold?
Water is the oil of the future. As we now seem to believe that oil under the sands of other countries actually belongs to us, we will likely be invading our neighbors in Canada to reclaim our acid rain from their lakes. If the Union of Concerned Scientists worst case scenario takes place, we'll have 70 days a summer with the temperature over 90 degrees. Imagine facing that with a limited water supply. There will be more insects, which means more pesticides going into that precious water supply.
One thing the report didn't talk about is human migration. If northern NH is having summers of the sort the southern states NOW have, what kind of summers will they have? Those overdeveloped areas will empty, and all those folks will head north. We'll be overheated, overpopulated, and underwatered. Sounds great, doesn't it? We had better plan wisely.
“The longer we wait to reduce our climate related emissions, the more costly it will be to adequately address these problems.” Thomas Burack, State Environmental Commissioner
Posted by susanthe at 11:24 AM