Opinion: Why should we care about climate change?

By JOHN CROSBY

Published: 05-28-2023 8:00 AM

John Crosby is a retired meteorologist living in the Eastman Community in Grantham. During his long career he specialized in the design and implementation of ground-based weather instruments in the U.S. and around the world. John’s last 15 years before retirement were spent with his own company manufacturing electro-optical sensors to measure atmospheric visibility.

Climate change affects everyone, even if we don’t always feel the impact in our day-to-day lives. Without an immediate and determined response to climate change, our lifestyles, livelihoods, and health will hang in the balance for decades to come.

Not every change in the climate is detrimental, but most are. Globally and in New Hampshire, warming has produced many impacts that affect us now and will continue to worsen in the future.

According to a recent report by the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire, temperatures across the state have risen by an average of 1.7 Celsius (3.0 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1901. The increases in average temperature are more significant in the fall and winter and more at night than during the day. Therefore, winters have warmed, there is a decrease in the frequency and severity of cold extremes, and an increase in the number of thaw events. These warmer temperatures, especially in the winter, are responsible for greater survival of pests like ticks and mosquitoes, a shortened season for outdoor activities like skiing and snowmobiling, fewer days where the ground is snow-covered, a reduction in maple syrup production, and more droughts.

Annual precipitation has increased in New Hampshire by 12%. As the atmosphere warms, its ability to hold moisture increases. This has increased heavy precipitation. The White Mountains and the Seacoast have seen increases in the number of precipitation events exceeding four inches over several days while inland areas and in the far north saw an increase in the number of daily one-inch events. The greater precipitation is causing more river flooding and also increasing the activity of insects like invasive pests, ticks and mosquitoes.

A particular impact on our local lakes is the production of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in the summer. Higher water temperature causes stratification of the water column and prevents the normal mixing of warm upper and cooler deeper water. When combined with increased nutrients flowing into the lake from heavy precipitation, you have two of the primary ingredients needed to produce cyanobacteria blooms.

Ocean temperatures were the warmest in recorded history in 2021. And recent studies have shown New England’s offshore waters are heating up faster than that of the rest of the world. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 96% of the world’s oceans, increasing at a rate of 0.1 degrees Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit) annually over the past four decades.

The impacts of increased ocean temperature include changes in habitat for ocean species such as lobster, cod and other seafood sources important to our local economy. With the ocean surface temperature rising, the ability of the water column to mix the oxygenated warm water near the surface to mix with the cooler nutrient rich water below is reduced. The increasing ocean temperature and a lack of mixing have resulted in the migration of many marine species to the north.

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Sea level rise is caused by increasing water temperatures and the melting of glaciers and ice caps. Even though New Hampshire has a short coastline, there are still impacts. To date, the sea level rise on our coast is only 0.06 meters (2.5 inches) but by 2100 sea level rise in New Hampshire could be approximately 0.6 to 1.5 meters (2 to 5 feet). In addition to the rise in sea level overtaking land and beaches, the largest impact is the increased potential of tidal flooding. Since 2000, coastal flooding in New Hampshire has increased 260%.

Most scientists agree that climate change is here to stay. Even if we were to slow the addition of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, the impact will be felt for many decades. But that is not a reason to do so little, so late. Moving forward, what is New Hampshire doing to mitigate some of the effects of climate change? Not enough, apparently.

The Concord Monitor reported last December that, compared to other New England states, New Hampshire has an outdated Climate Action Plan (2009) and little has been done to implement the recommendations of that plan. For instance, if a stated goal of the plan is to reduce CO2 emissions, why is the coal-fired power plant in Merrimack still operating? Unfortunately, New Hampshire tends to base its climate decisions more on the costs of climate mitigation rather than the future cost of not taking action.

As citizens, we can ask “Why should I care” or “What can we do?” The available scientific data from reliable sources make it easy to answer the first question. The second question is harder to answer because it requires our state and local governments, as well as ourselves, to make sacrifices.

Some of the needed changes that can be implemented by the state are one, build climate resilience by protecting critical infrastructure such as water treatment and waste management facilities; two, require cleaner emissions from buildings, power plants, and vehicles; three, adapt best practices in agriculture and forestry; and four, plan and implement structural changes in coastal and riverine areas to reduce sea-level rise and flooding.

As individuals, there are many changes we can make to our lives to help reduce emissions. While one family’s impact on climate change may be tiny, by encouraging our friends, neighbors, and community to participate we can collectively make more of an impact.

Many of us have been implementing energy savings measures in our own lives such as reducing our carbon footprint, driving energy-efficient vehicles (hybrid and electric), getting a home energy audit, unplugging unused appliances, using LED light bulbs, walking or bicycling when possible, and pushing elected officials, especially at the state level, to pass practical laws to help our state both mitigate the effects of climate change and build resilience into our infrastructure to minimize the potential damage that will occur.

What we do today will determine what kind of world our children and grandchildren inherit. Ask yourself one question, “Are we doing enough”?

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