By George Harvey
Vermont and New Hampshire have a lot in common. Autumns are colored gloriously gold, red, and yellow by maples, aspens, birches, and our other hardwoods. This brings leaf peepers into our lives and economies. Sugar maples give us syrup and quaint pictures of farm folk working in the winter woods. Winter ski resorts also add to our lives and provide jobs. The memorable vistas of our hills and valleys are extraordinary, beautiful, striking, and yet serene.
A set of new reports on global warming came out in November from such varied sources as the United Nations, the World Bank, the CIA, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. All agreed with a troubling warning, “Unless we take urgent action now, Right Now, we will be in dire trouble.”
It is not just that farmers will have bad crops, that animals will die, and plants succumb. Unless we act Right Now, vast areas of the Earth will be radically changed. Many farmlands will turn to desert; others will turn to swamps. Die-offs will not a few thousand birds killed by wind generators, as imagined by those who oppose wind. The estimate is a million species will be driven to extinction. Cities will be inundated with water, at an expense of trillions of dollars. The changes that come cannot be fully anticipated, and so we cannot fully prepare for them. There is hope, however. If we act now, Right Now, we may be able to fend off some of the worst of it.
I must say I am still optimistic. We can limit the change in Central New England to a degree. Of course, we will lose our maple syrup, because sugar maples will not yield sap in the warmer winters to come. This is not a prediction; it has been underway for over a decade – as farmers have already noticed. We will lose the fall colors and the leaf peepers; again, the fall colors are already more a memory and a wish than a reality. Ski seasons are already declining. Our conifers are already dying from a variety of invasive species that used to be held at bay by the cold winters, on which we can no longer depend and soon will not be at all. We already suffer from Lyme disease because our winters no longer inhibit deer ticks. We are already finding the mosquito species that carry West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. These are things that are already happeing and widely understood. And yet, I will repeat, I am still an optimist that we can fend off some of the worst that is to come.
There are certain troubles that I, optimistic as I am, foresee, even though I have not seen them discussed already. One example is logging the state and national forests and converting the wood to biofuel. This may seem appalling, even illegal, but it is actually easy to predict. As the trees are killed off by pests, a process already underway, they will have to be cut out of the forests, or they will just stand there, forests of barkless trunks and broken branches, providing mute, post-deathbed testimony to the folly of Mankind. I fully expect this, but I am optimistic we can still defend against the worst that might happen.
New England is made of its land, its soil, and its people, much more than the species of flora and fauna that inhabit it. The worst that might happen would be to lose the soil and to lose the people. I will not go into that.
We can still save our land, our homes and our people, by acting Right Now on climate change. We cannot prevent the losses we must expect to endure. The glorious vistas of autumn gold will be gone, and there is nothing we can do about that. Some of the bird species will certainly depart forever. We will have diseases we do not yet see. Our farms will certainly change. Perhaps we could convert from maple groves to vinyards, and we may keep our dairy products. I remain optimisitic.
My advice: stop the selfish actions to preserve a view by preventing wind generators from being installed. You can learn to love the wind generators, but you will not learn to love the view without them, after deforestation from invasive species. Stop naysaying solar. We need it. Support a sustainable lifestyle, learn to enjoy a simpler life without dependence on unhealthy conveniences. Don’t waste things. Support local agriculture, or grow your own food wherever you can.
And by the way, toss the old USDA planting zone maps. They are wrong. The new ones have appeared, and we are all in different zones. Even here New Hampshire and Vermont, the planting times are already what they were in Rhode Island 30 years ago. Our climate has already changed, and it certainly will change more! The question is how much. And the answer to that question, which is in our own hands, if we act Right Now, will tell us how great the personal tragedy will be for each and every one of us.
If we start a concerted effort now, Right Now, taking advantage of the technology we already have, and if we do that wisely, we can save much of our way of life. We can shape our future so the changes will turn central and northern New England into something we can easily learn to love, a place were our children’s children can be happy. IF we act now, Right Now.