My Turn: We need a climate plan

For the Monitor
Published: 2/2/2020 6:15:15 AM

‘If you don’t know where you’re going any road will do,” observed Lewis Carroll. He may well have been describing New Hampshire’s efforts to tackle climate change.

This reality was brought home to me last year when a constituent asked me to explain the House Democrats’ overarching plan to combat the climate crisis. I’ll admit here what I had to tell him: I don’t think we have one. Nor do we seem to as a state.

A decade or so ago, then-Gov. John Lynch commissioned a Climate Action Plan. It yielded some good research and solid ideas. And then was put on a shelf and largely forgotten, the lessons it offered never incorporated into law.

Since then, the Legislature has adopted a piecemeal approach to climate change. We’ve grappled with, and continue to grapple with, net metering and RGGI funds, offshore wind and vehicle emissions, and a whole host of other ideas often supported by the hard work of advocacy groups like 350NH. But at no point have we clearly spelled out where we want to go and how we’re going to get there.

That could change with House Bill 1664, the only bill this session to codify into law specific carbon emissions reductions – an essential step in combating the climate crisis.

The bill starts by setting goals for reducing those emissions – to 20% below 1990 levels by 2025, 50% by 2035 and 80% by 2050. This final number is what the world’s best climate scientists agree we have to hit to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The bill also sets out a plan for inventorying our current emissions, so we know for certain where we are now. House Bill 1664 puts us on the path to get there by bringing together all the state agencies “with jurisdiction over activities that impact greenhouse gas emissions.” The state will, for the first time, “incorporate these goals into project planning, rulemaking, and funding determinations going forward.”

We already know what the climate deniers will say. In fact, I heard some of them at the bill’s hearing recently. At least in the public setting of a House committee, they’ve given up arguing the science, which is good, because that ship has sailed on our ever-rising seas. Instead they pass the buck, trying to dodge responsibility by pointing to the small size of our state and suggesting that anything we do to mitigate climate change is just a drop in the bucket.

But just as the potential for economic damage is real if we fail to act, the potential for economic growth is equally real if we take appropriate action now.

According to one study, mitigating climate change could be worth $26 trillion in economic growth in just the next 10 years.

You know, they say all politics is local. And I’m inclined to believe it’s also personal – and for me, a farmer and a legislator – the climate crisis is very real. Currently, farms in eight New Hampshire counties are eligible for emergency disaster relief from the USDA because of extreme temperature variations last winter.

Remember that 63-degree day we had a week or two ago? That type of weather on our farm last year had terrible results: We lost a 5-acre hay field and our raspberry and blueberry crops were a fraction of what they should have been.

Usually, summer on our farm means folks showing up for pick-your-own berries, but in 2019 we didn’t even open our rows of berries to the public because there just weren’t enough for them to pick. And our bottom line took a beating.

Farmers are smart, tough and resilient, but we can’t farm our way around these things forever.

And it wasn’t just the hayfield and the berries. Warm, wet weather – exactly what climate models predict – is bringing new and more persistent pests to our orchards. One of them, fireblight, we really have no good answer for. And increased extreme rainfall events – we used to have one to two a year and we’re now seeing three to four – throw a wrench into everything we do.

On the farm, we can react to these things, but at some point we have to get out ahead of them. I believe the best defense is a good offense. HB 1664 positions us to do exactly that.

(Craig Thompson is a farmer, state representative and candidate for Executive Council District 2 from Harrisville.)


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