Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Town Meetings & Climate Change

More than a hundred towns in New Hampshire have passed a resolutioncalling for action on climate change. Maybe it's time we put this on the agenda for Vermont town meetings next year.

And this time around in Middlebury, let's be sure that our Republican governor, Jim Douglas, who seems determined to do absolutely nothing about climate change, doesn't use his role as meeting moderator to try to block the vote.

This from the New York Times, March 19, 2006:

BARTLETT, N.H., March 18 — As they do every March at the town meeting here, residents debated and voted Thursday on items most local: whether to outfit the town fire truck with a new hose, buy a police cruiser and put a new drainpipe in the town garage.
But here and in schools and town halls throughout New Hampshire, between discussions about school boards and budgets, residents are also considering a state referendum on a global issue: climate change.

Of the 234 incorporated cities and towns in New Hampshire, 180 are voting on whether to support a resolution asking the federal government to address climate change and to develop research initiatives to create “innovative energy technologies.” The measure also calls for state residents to approve local solutions for combating climate change and for town selectmen to consider forming energy committees.

“This is an important issue to people in New Hampshire; it’s an environmentally friendly state,” said Kurt Ehrenberg, a spokesman from the Sierra Club’s New Hampshire office. “One of the driving factors here is the lack of federal leadership on this issue, and it’s forced people to find a solution on the local level.”

While the resolution is nonbinding, organizers hope to use it to force presidential candidates to address climate change during the New Hampshire presidential primary.

“We’re trying to bring to the attention of presidential candidates that we are concerned about this in little purple New Hampshire,” said Don Martin, 61, a real estate agent in Bristol who helped collect signatures to put the initiative on the agenda in his town, where it passed by a wide margin. “New Hampshire is fairly middle-of-the-road to conservative, and if we’re concerned about this, then maybe you guys should pay attention to it.”

As of Sunday, 134 towns had passed the initiative; some had yet to hold their meetings.
The New Hampshire Carbon Coalition, a bipartisan citizens group led by a former Republican state senator and the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, spearheaded the initiative to have climate change considered at town meetings. The last time voters in New Hampshire focused on a global issue at such meetings was in 1983, when more than 100 towns asked that the federal government do something about acid rain, which was polluting the state’s waterways.

A handful of towns often take up national issues at their meetings, said Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, an independent state policy group, but “this is definitely a little more rare.”

“It might be somewhat normal for a town to take on a national initiative,” Mr. Norton said, “but not half the towns in the state.”

Here in Bartlett, a town of about 2,200 people in the White Mountains, the measure passed almost unanimously at the Thursday meeting. Bartlett’s interest is both economical and environmental: best known for its ski areas, the town suffered from a lack of snow last year and in the first half of this winter.

“We have a vested interest in climate change here. We like to get snow,” said Doug Garland, a town selectman who owns a snowshoeing and cross-country skiing area.

David P. Brown, a professor of climatology and geography at the University of New Hampshire, said that the state’s average winter temperatures had risen over the past 30 years and that snowfall had decreased. “Every reputable climate model projects a continued warming for New England,” Professor Brown said, “and I expect that trend to be mirrored in New Hampshire.”
While the resolution has been supported widely, not all voters have approved of it. Gene Chandler, a selectman in Bartlett, said he did not think national issues should be brought before town meetings.

Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan who tracks local climate change initiatives, said that Colorado and Washington had passed renewable energy standards by ballot initiative and that Texas had held hearings on the issue.

“To me New Hampshire is breaking a little different ground, using the town meeting approach,” Professor Rabe said, “which isn’t a widely available operation.”

Mr. Ehrenberg, of the Sierra Club, said he and others hoped the votes would send a message that change could come from the bottom up.

“Those bumper stickers you see,” he said, “ ‘Think globally, act locally’ — this is really the embodiment of that.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's Worse Than We Thought

A pending new report makes clear that global warming is already happening, and it will affect hundreds of millions of people. Here's a preview, drawn from a March 12, 2007, report in the New York Times:

Scientists Warn of Water Shortages and Disease Linked to Global Warming

'Floods will drive tens of millions of people from their homes each year, a new report says, and polar bears will exist mostly in zoos.'

WASHINGTON, March 11 (AP) — The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people will not have enough water, top scientists are likely to say next month at a meeting in Belgium.

At the same time, tens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels, according to portions of a draft of an international scientific report by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Tropical diseases like malaria will spread, the draft says. By 2050, polar bears will mostly be found in zoos, their habitats gone. Pests like fire ants will thrive.

For a time, food will be plentiful because of the longer growing season in northern regions. But by 2080, hundreds of millions of people could face starvation, according to the report, which is still being revised.

The draft document, the second of a series of four being issued this year, focuses on global warming’s effects. Written and reviewed by more than 1,000 scientists from dozens of countries, it still must be edited by government officials.

But some scientists said the overall message is not likely to change when it is issued in early April in Brussels, where European Union leaders agreed Friday to work to cut greenhouse gas emissions substantially by 2020. Their plan will be presented to President Bush and other world leaders at a summit meeting in June.

The draft report offers some hope if nations slow and then reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but it says what has been happening has not been encouraging.

“Changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent,” the report says, in marked contrast to a 2001 report by the same international group that said the effects of global warming were coming. But that report mentioned only scattered regional effects.

“Things are happening and happening faster than we expected,” said Patricia Romero Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., one of the many co-authors of the new report.

The draft document says scientists are highly confident that many current problems — change in species’ habits and habitats, more acidified oceans, loss of wetlands, bleaching of coral reefs and increases in allergy-inducing pollen — can be attributed to global warming.

For example, the report says North America “has already experienced substantial ecosystem, social and cultural disruption from recent climate extremes,” like hurricanes and wildfires.
But Ms. Romero Lankao said that global warming soon would “affect everyone’s life,” and added that “it’s the poor sectors that will be most affected.”

Another co-author, Terry Root of Stanford University, said, “We truly are standing at the edge of mass extinction” of species.

The United Nations-organized network of 2,000 scientists was established in 1988 to give regular assessments of the earth’s environment.

The draft report says that hundreds of millions of Africans and tens of millions of Latin Americans who now have water will be short of it in less than 20 years. By 2050, more than a billion people in Asia could face water shortages. By 2080, water shortages could threaten 1.1 billion to 3.2 billion people, depending on the level of greenhouse gases that cars and industry spew into the air.

It says that death rates for the world’s poor from conditions worsened by the changes global warming brings, like malnutrition and diarrhea, will rise by 2030. By 2080, 200 million to 600 million people could be hungry because of global warming’s effects, it says.

It also says that Europe’s small glaciers will disappear, with many of the continent’s large glaciers shrinking sharply by 2050. And half of Europe’s plant species could be vulnerable, endangered or extinct by 2100.

The hardest-hit continents are likely to be Africa and Asia, with major harm also coming to small islands and some aspects of ecosystems near the poles. North America, Europe and Australia are predicted to suffer the fewest of the harmful effects.

“In most parts of the world and most segments of populations, lifestyles are likely to change as a result of climate change,” the draft report said. “Net valuations of benefits vs. costs will vary, but they are more likely to be negative if climate change is substantial and rapid, rather than if it is moderate and gradual.”

Many, though not all, of those effects can be prevented, the report says, if within a generation the world slows down its emissions of carbon dioxide and if the level of greenhouse gases sticking around in the atmosphere stabilizes. If that is the case, the report says, “most major impacts on human welfare would be avoided; but some major impacts on ecosystems are likely to occur.”