Opinion: A time for reckoning in a mild month


Published: 10-16-2023 5:00 PM

Millie LaFontaine lives in Concord.

It’s mid-October, and Mt. Washington has received less than a half inch of snow. Normal average snowfall for the month of October on the Northeast’s highest peak is 19 inches. Yes, we could catch up, but the chances of that happening grow slimmer by the day.

Closer to home, I am still harvesting beans by the bagful, and I am still enjoying the bright blooms of zinnias, marigolds, and dahlias long beyond the time these cold-sensitive plants normally succumb to the first fingers of frost which would be touching my garden by now.

We are soaking up the warmth of afternoon sunshine and lulled by the soft drone of bumblebees. We are relieved that our homes aren’t as chilly in the mornings as they have any right to be. There are delightful and perhaps money-saving aspects to this mild fall weather, but to me, the ominous undercurrents of this lovely interlude are hard to miss.

What I am seeing is that the hottest year in recorded history is continuing. Our human-made greenhouse can’t cool off.

When the Southwest baked this summer, Phoenix experienced 31 consecutive days of 110-degree weather, the hot nights were as destructive as the scorching days. Human-built structures, like roads, buildings, and airport runways, retained heat for many hours after sunset and contributed to the next day’s heat.

Similarly, as we in the Northeast have built up and paved over more and more of our natural world inside our greenhouse, we have not only heated our days and warmed our nights, but dialed up the temperatures of our seasons. We see it best during the shoulder seasons like fall and spring, but it is at work all year long, here in New Hampshire as much as in Arizona, changing much of what we love about our climate.

We humans find it extraordinarily hard to respond to huge problems. We evolved over millennia to be very good at escaping tigers and finding joy in the moment or thinking about what’s for breakfast, but we have real trouble seeing and responding to what seem like abstract problems beyond our control.

We can all try to do our part, but we cannot tackle climate change solely on a personal level. We need huge policy shifts to reverse these trends. But a regrettable majority of our politicians, both in our own state legislature and on Capitol Hill, want to play to our human inclination to find comfort in the moment, and reassure us that we can still pour greenhouse gases so generously supplied to us by the fossil fuel industry into our atmosphere and be fine.

Here in New Hampshire, our government has passed few meaningful laws to encourage clean energy, reduce our carbon footprint, or promote carbon storage. Our governor touts his environmental chops, pointing to his family connections to a ski resort. Yet under his watch, our state remains the only New England state without a mandate for greenhouse gas reductions and has the lowest renewable energy requirements in the region. The affordability of fossil fuels is prioritized over the development of cleaner alternatives.

The trouble with the slow-walking, market-driven approach to climate change adopted by our state government is that it appeals to our innate desire to look out only for ourselves and the people we know, and to let the rest of the world— and future generations— melt or burn in our noxious gas-filled greenhouse. Maybe having only a quarter-inch snowfall on Mt. Washington in October doesn’t seem all that big a deal. Maybe we love green beans in the fall. But they are signals of trouble for the world.

We can’t be lulled into thinking our own personal comfort and our own interests and pocketbooks are the main factors to consider when we vote. There is a local election coming up in less than a month. We need to pay attention to the records and promises of the people we elect to our local governments and state legislature this election cycle.

And when the time comes for national elections, we cannot afford to listen to candidates whose main priorities are cost, trimming government spending, and making life even more comfortable for the wealthy. It’s going to cost us, but there is no meaningful alternative to electing a government willing to shoulder responsibility for projects that are essential for our own health and the health of our planet.