Thursday June 16, 2011

"I remain baffled as to how anyone -- Democrat, Republican, Progressive -- can look at the evidence that's before our eyes, look at the scientific data and not have [climate change] be the top priority of everything that we do, not only in government, but in our own personal and private lives." -- Governor Peter Shumlin, 2006

Two weeks ago I awoke to my daughter telling me that school was cancelled because of flooding. I was awakened many times during the night by the storm, but the flooding and destruction it caused took me, and all Vermonters, by surprise. As we toured the damage, people stopped to ask me whether the heavy rain and floods we experienced this spring are from global climate change. Of course, it is hard to know for sure, but climate scientists have been predicting for years that climate change will result in droughts, floods and other extreme weather events. Indeed, over the past 10 years Vermont has experience eight of the most extreme one-day precipitation events in our recorded history.

What this tells me is that it is time for bold leadership to both to reduce our contributions to climate change and to meet the challenges of an already changing climate.

Governor Peter Shumlin agrees. That's why on May 17 he signed an executive order creating the Vermont Climate Cabinet.


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This cabinet, led by the Agency of Natural Resources, is a collaboration between many agencies of state government with the charge of providing leadership to coordinate climate change efforts across state agencies and to engage Vermonters in our efforts to decrease our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The Climate Cabinet has three priorities: to reduce Vermonter's contribution to global warming by implementing the energy plan that is being developed by the public service department, which should be completed by October; to prepare us for the changes we are already experiencing by continuing to develop and implement a climate adaptation plan for the state; and to make sure that state government is leading in the effort to burn less fossil fuels.

Despite the challenges of cleaning up from recent floods and the fact that the weather report continues to predict storms, Vermont's outlook is bright. We can build upon Vermont's leadership in energy efficiency and our great potential for local renewable energy. We will grow new jobs, as our manufacturing sector focuses on clean energy technology. Eighty percent of Vermont is already forested, making it easier to adopt policies to prevent forest loss. Experts from our colleges and universities are willing partners to conduct research to help us make the right choices and investments. And of course, our most important advantage in this effort is that Vermonters across the state are engaged and ready to act.

As Vermonters we know that the small things we do can make a big difference if enough of us participate. Find out more about climate science, Vermont's emissions and what you can do to reduce your contribution to climate change. Visit vtclimatechange.us.

What are greenhouse gasses and how to they contribute to climate change? Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) include carbon and methane. They trap heat energy from the sun to maintain a relatively warm constant temperature that makes life possible. However, since the Industrial Revolution human activities have greatly increased the amounts of GHG emitted into our atmosphere from oil, coal and gas used for transportation, electricity, and heat. This ongoing increase in the pool of atmospheric GHGs causes more of the Sun's energy to be retained, thereby raising global temperatures.

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Evidence of climate change:

-- GHG levels are at highest in 1,000s of years

-- 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record worldwide

-- Average length of the growing season in the lower 48 states has increased by about two weeks the since beginning of the 20th century.

-- Since 1990 we have had 8 of top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events occurred.

-- 6 of the 10 most active hurricane seasons have occurred since the mid-1990s.

-- Sea surface temperatures have been higher during the past three decades than at any other time since large-scale measurement began in the late1800s.

-- Arctic sea ice in 2009 was 24 percent below the 1979-2000 historical average and it continues to shrink. Glaciers worldwide have lost more than 2,000 cubic miles of water since 1960.

-- Sea level increase has accelerated to more than 1"/decade in recent years.

(Source: EPA, Climate Change Indicators in the U.S., May 2010)

Impact of climate change on Vermont: By the end of the century Vermont's climate is expected to look, at a minimum, like Northern Virginia's and could be comparable to North Carolina's under a higher emission scenario.

(Source: Confronting Climate Change in the NE; Science, Impacts and Solutions (July, 2007) based on IPCC projections.)

What you can do: Scientists recommend 60-80 percent GHG reduction below 1990 level by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. You can help by reducing your carbon footprint. Buy local food and products. Conserve energy and convert to lower carbon fuels like wood or pellets for home heating, and renewable energy for electricity. Drive fewer miles and support efforts to prepare Vermont for alternative fueled vehicles including electric cars.

Deb Markowitz is the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.