New Hampshire is a wonderful place to live.
For now, we are fortunate to have an abundant variety of mutually beneficial ecosystems, including forests, mountains, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Together they support essential plant and animal life and contribute to the overall health of the planet. Yet, these interconnected ecological communities are struggling under the increasing stress of global warming and toxic byproducts of the manmade systems and behaviors that are overheating Earth. Our inclinations and activities are killing the natural world and us. We must change our ways wholly, quickly, and forever. Hopeful, we must all act to halt the environmental calamity coming our way. First we learn the scientific truth and then we reimagine and redesign the small and large systems on which we currently depend and that no longer work to the benefit of all life.
Human activity, including burning fossil fuels and raising land and water animals for food, is heating up the planet while poisoning air, soil, and water, driving ecological collapse around the globe. As the entire planet bakes, with average temperatures growing hotter by the year, from greenhouse gasses (such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide), destruction follows. Massive and more frequent wildfires, more and more destructive weather patterns, food and water shortages (and the wars and diasporas that accompany them), animal and plant extinctions, and the spread of deadly viruses, bacteria, and prions that cause widespread diseases in humans and animals such as SARS-CoV-2, making the planet increasingly uninhabitable for human, plant, and animal life.
Our region is not an exception. New Hampshire faces ever-greater life-threatening stressors, having warmed approximately 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century. This increase may not seem like a lot, but these rises in the average annual temperature are becoming a matter of life and death. And according to climate scientists, this hopeless trend will continue, unless we alter drastically all our ways locally, regionally, nationally, and universally, including change that is systemic, individual, political, educational, and more.
So, how does global warming affect us in New Hampshire and beyond? Here are just a few examples, and as you read, remember everything is connected to everything else.
Spring arrives earlier and earlier, more frequently bringing severe rainstorms that cause flooding and mudslides. Heavier snowfalls and the accompanying problems, such as downed trees and power lines, are becoming more common, and summers are hotter and drier. Sea-level rise affects coastal ecosystems, and adjacent crop lands and fresh water supplies become salty. Our communities, battered by more powerful storms, suffer increasing damage to property and infrastructure. People fleeing coastal regions due to rising seas and unbearable heat in other parts of the U.S. move to places like Claremont, which do not have the funds, services, and infrastructure to support burgeoning populations.
And more about water. New Hampshire depends on snow melt to replenish fresh water supplies. Despite snow storms being heavier, they are less frequent, decreasing, overall, the amount of snowmelt that is fed back into the state’s water supply. And warmer water temperatures in lakes, rivers, and oceans affect negatively the health of fish populations, one reason being warmer water holds less oxygen for fish to breathe and they suffocate.
In New Hampshire forests, hardwood trees cannot thrive in hotter temperatures with longer droughts. The likelihood that sugar maples disappear in significant numbers will, in turn, undercut the livelihoods of people in the maple syrup business and in the tourist industry, among others. “Leaf peepers” visit every Autumn, bringing needed income into the state. But as deciduous tree counts decrease here and those that remain present less brilliant colors, the tourists drawn to New Hampshire will stop coming and spend their money elsewhere.
Global warming also exposes forests to new diseases. Southern insects deadly to our native trees are moving into cooler regions such as ours. For example, warmer temperatures are driving northward the hemlock woolly adelgid that has destroyed hemlock forests in southern parts of the state. And the emerald ash borer becomes more prevalent as the climate warms, causing expensive and deadly damage. Moreover, forests that are drought stressed and dying from assaults of invasive insect infestations are more susceptible to wildfires.
Every ecosystem now experiences the destabilization of relationships between species. How that plays out in New Hampshire includes wildflowers and woody perennials that bloom earlier each year. The timing of when plants regenerate and bloom in the spring affects those organisms that depend on them and that have life cycles tied to that timing, such as beneficial bugs. This means that food required by essential pollinators, for example, may not be available when they need it, impacting their ability to survive. And new arrivals of migratory birds, fleeing hotter zones, compete with native birds for food, which can be less abundant due to global warming induced changes in weather. This touches only the tip of the proverbial and now melting icebergs!
Then there are the mounting serious and often-terminal health problems for humans and animals that come as a result of rising average temperatures. We are seeing more illnesses that compromise and kill. They include acute and chronic conditions, such as asthma that can be exacerbated by increased mold growth in buildings, which occurs because warmer air holds more moisture in which molds thrive. Molds can affect humans’ cognitive ability and poison plant crops. Increased temperatures also make our region more appealing to mosquitoes, who remain active longer and carry malaria and West Nile virus and heartworm among other diseases. Add to this tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis. Ticks kill moose and infect companion animals, and are active when temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Warmer weather lengthens tick season’s destruction.
Global warming undercuts our ability to afford life’s essentials such as food, the prices of which are rising along with average annual temperatures that make growing food trickier as conditions for healthy crops change irreversibly. The mix of violent storms and extended periods of drought play havoc, causing greater and more frequent failures in our food system, driving hunger and starvation. Even New Hampshire farmers are being adversely impacted by climate change.
New Hampshire, like the entire planet, is faced with an existential crisis that is manmade. We may not be suffering, yet, the extreme trials much of the world now faces as habitable regions shrink in size. But the extremes of climate change must force us, before it is too late, to change every aspect of how we live if we want our children and theirs to have a future that is not a living hell. In New Hampshire, we can begin to forestall the crisis by doing the following, although much more extensive eco-centric fixes are needed:
— Use less fossil fuel. Instead, choose to walk, bike, carpool, bundle your errands, or drive an electric car.
— Use renewable energy (and less of it)—solar, hydroelectric, and wind power.
— Stop burning wood—wood releases the greenhouse gas CO2 when burned.
— Eat an unprocessed whole-foods, plant-based diet. Animal agriculture — raising animals for human consumption — is a greater contributor to global warming than all forms of transportation together. And an unprocessed plant-based diet is healthier and more humane than a diet with animal “products,” and it uses less energy from farm to table.
— Use energy-efficient appliances.
— Use less and buy fewer products made from fossil fuels and/or produced by fossil fuels and those packaged in plastics, for example, made from petrochemicals.
— Urge government officials to enact more robust environmentally-friendly legislation
— Learn about climate change’s impact on our area’s wildlife by participating in the hands-on presentations offered by the Claremont Conservation Commission, beginning April 1 through October. Check out the commission’s Facebook page for details and updates.
Jack Hurley is a sitting member of the Claremont Conservation Commission.
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