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Vermont Climate Assessment Report Released

WAMC/Pat Bradley

The University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics has issued a first-of-its-kind report on the impact of climate change on the state.

The Vermont Climate Assessment was released Tuesday during a panel discussion on climate change at the University of Vermont. The report, inspired by the National Climate Assessment, is the first state-level climate assessment. Lead author Dr. Gillian Galford says it’s different in that it looks at impacts, vulnerabilities and new opportunities.  “A lot of states are looking at their risks and particularly at policies. Last week the governor of Connecticut came out with a report on climate change for Connecticut that was focused on their policies targeting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a great report. That type of topic is just one small facet of what we’re covering in the Vermont Climate Assessment.”

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz praised the recently released national climate assessment. But she says its overview is regional, while the Vermont Climate Assessment delves much deeper into local impacts.  “If we’re going to make policy decisions about how we manage our state lands, for example, or what kind of regulations make sense to protect communities in light of climate change, we need to have real data about Vermont.  So in a very practical way this will be a useful tool for us.”

NOAA/National Weather Service Meteorologist-in-Charge Andy Nash presented an overview of observations recorded in Vermont. Temperatures have increased 1.3 degrees since 1960 and the last decade was the warmest on record. The growing season is longer: by two to three days per decade. The state’s largest city, Burlington, is getting more rain and seeing bigger spikes between wet and dry years. Nash also reported that Vermont has had 20 federal disaster declarations since the year 2000, nine in the past four years. Eighty percent are due to flooding.  “The bottom line is climate change is here. It’s happening and this is just the start of how things are going to be.”

The Climate Assessment looks at a number of sectors including natural resources, communities, energy, ski and recreation, and agriculture.  

UVM Gund Institute Master’s student Sam Carlson, who researched the recreation and tourism section, was among those surprised by the positive potential for the recreation industry in the face of climate changes.  “We may be in what we’re calling a climate change sweet spot. More precipitation is going to mean more snowfall that’s good for the ski industry. Over time, more of that precipitation is going to fall as rain. That’s going to threaten the recreation and tourism industries. With regards to summer, it’s going to be a longer season. Less good is the fact that we’ll have more pests. The fall also looks good as leaves stay on the trees longer.”

Deb Markowitz notes that in one year there was more than $100 billion of damage from weather-related events in the U.S., causing significant challenges.  “We know that overall it’s a challenge, but in small ways it is not surprising that there are pros and cons with the change. You know in Vermont having a longer, more luxurious fall, who’s going to complain? Things are changing and the question is how are we going to prepare ourselves so that we can thrive?”

Dr. Gillian Galford says Vermont’s future depends on current climate change policies.  “We use the word resilience,  which is very empowering. We have to build resilience.  It’s a much more positive way to think about it. How do we take advantage of some of these changes? If we keep doing business in the status quo, we won’t thrive under climate change.”

A link to the Vermont Climate Assessment is available here.

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