Testimony of Mr. Adam Markham
Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
United States Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
March 13th, 2002
Good morning Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee. My name is Adam Markham and I am the Executive Director of Clean Air-Cool Planet, a small non-profit working to achieve reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast. Thank you for inviting me here today to talk about likely impacts of continued climatic change.
New England is coming to end of what will almost certainly be the warmest winter on record, and much of the region has been in the grip of severe or extreme drought for many months. These individual weather events are not, in themselves, indicators of climate change but they are providing a taste of what climate change might bring. New Hampshire is currently experiencing the second worst drought in more than 100 years and Maine’s last twelve months were the driest on record. Lake Winnipesaukee is at its lowest level in a generation, wells are running dry, and concerns are being raised about hydroelectric power shortages, fish populations and forest fire risk.
As with the rest of the country, we are experiencing a long-term warming trend. On average, New England has warmed by 0.7°F since 1895. Winters have warmed more than summers, and the greatest warming has been in New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. Annual precipitation for the region as a whole has increased, especially in southern New England where the change has been more than 25% over the last century. More rain is falling in intense storms than in the past.
On the other hand, there has been a significant decrease (15%) in snowfall in northern New England since 1953. Snow is lying on the ground 7 days less than it was 50 years ago and the ice comes off lakes a few days earlier now than 100 years ago. Other documented indicators of a shorter winter include progressively earlier flowering of lilacs and the fact that frogs have advanced their spring calling by several weeks.
The New England Regional Assessment (NERA), which was carried out under the auspices of the US Global Change Research Program and coordinated by Dr. Barrett Rock of the University of New Hampshire, was published in September 2001. Four years in the making, the report reviewed some of the risks associated with continued global warming. The warming scenarios described in the report suggest a likely 6-10°F warming over the next century. In crude terms, such a change would result in Boston getting the climate of Richmond VA in the best case, and that of Atlanta, GA in the worst case. Either way, the climate of New England would be irreversibly transformed with far-reaching and negative, economic and environmental impacts.
Let me start by describing the threat to one of the icons of New England culture, and one that I know is close to Chairman Jeffords’ heart – the sugar maple. According to all credible forest models, the sugar maple is one of the tree species most sensitive to warming temperatures. Business as usual emissions scenarios are almost certain to eventually drive the sugar maple northwards out of New England entirely. Even before that happens climate change will start to take a toll.
New England and New York produce approximately 75% of the maple syrup produced in the US today. US maple syrup production is worth more than $30 million annually. For Vermont, it is a more than $100 million industry with over 2,000 mainly family-owned sugar producers. Many of these families have been careful stewards of these forests for generations and they have a strong interest in the legacy that is passed to their children and grandchildren. Maple trees take decades to mature and new stands are planted for the benefit of future generations. According to NERA this heritage and industry “may be irreparably altered under a changing climate”. There are indications that sugar production tends to be better in colder years, and it is established that droughts during the growing season adversely affect production in subsequent years. For example, sugarmakers expect to see impacts of the current drought, which started last summer, in production numbers for this current season.
There is a very short time in the year when conditions are right for sugar production. Sap generally flows during late February and early March. Sugar bushes need a prolonged period of temperatures below 25°F to convert starch to sucrose and to get high sugar content in the sap. A freeze/thaw cycle of cold nights and warm days (above 38-40°F) is required to get the sap moving. When the nights no longer freeze the season is over.
According to Dr. Tim Perkins, Director of the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont, sugarmakers are reporting that the season is starting earlier and earlier. Traditionally, in much of Vermont, tapping coincided with Town Meeting Day (the first Tuesday in March). But this is changing, and during the last decade approximately a quarter of Vermont’s sugar production has occurred before Town Meeting Day. This year’s warm winter triggered one of the earliest sugaring season starts anyone can remember.
With such a short window of opportunity, the decision on when to tap the trees is critical to successful production. Tap too early and you risk “drying out” the tree too soon, but tap too late and you may miss some of the best sap runs. By making the beginning of the season more unpredictable and increasing temperature fluctuations, global warming will make the decision on when to tap even more difficult.
There is little data available yet with which to predict more accurately the likely impacts of climate change on maple trees or its possible interplay with other threats to the maple industry, including acid rain, land-use change and pests such as the Asian longhorned beetle. The Proctor Maple Research Center plans to begin a vigorous program of research on global warming impacts in the very near future. High quality field data they have been collecting for a number of years will enable them to construct a computer model of sap flow in maple trees under varying conditions. This will then be used to simulate sap flow under various climate change scenarios to predict the effect on production.
Winter sports are especially vulnerable to global warming. Because of the strong relationship between winter skiing conditions, the number of customers, and subsequent successes or failures in the ski industry, a changing climate may have severe repercussions for New England’s winter tourism economy. There are 80 ski resorts now operating in the region.
Although economic analyses for New England have been limited, studies from Canada suggest that global warming could have major economic impacts for the ski industry there. For example, one analysis indicated that an increase of 3.5-3.7º C could decrease the number of skier days by 50-70% at resorts in Southern Quebec. This could mean a loss of up to $1.7 billion in revenue for Quebec.
A recent study by Brian Palm, a Dartmouth College alum and post-graduate student at Oxford University, of the past nineteen years of weather data for Vermont and New Hampshire showed an average of 700,000 fewer ski visits in the years with the worst snow conditions.
Vermont and New Hampshire have the most ski-dependent economies in New England. Together, the two states receive approximately 6 million ski visits annually. Skiers generate some of the highest per capita spending of any tourists. In New Hampshire the industry generated $566 million in visitor spending in 2000. This spending is critical to the state government’s budget, and in 2000 it accounted for nearly $58 million in tax revenue. The skiing industry also creates more than 10% of the winter jobs in New Hampshire.
Capital investment in the region’s ski industry is highly significant and would be at risk from shorter winters and a warmer, less snowy climate. Recent single-season improvements at Sugarbush (VT) and Sunapee (NH) cost $28 million and $11 million respectively. Resort operators have increasingly had to make costly improvements to snowmaking technology to smooth out inconsistent winters. Vermont and ski areas increased the area covered by snowmaking by 15% in the last 12 years and resorts in New Hampshire spent $24.2 million to increase acres covered by snowmaking by 18% during the last decade. At Attitash in New Hampshire, snowmaking costs about $750,000 per year and accounts for approximately 20% of total operating costs.
In 2001, the November temperature for the Northeast averaged 43.6ºF, some 5.3ºF higher than the 107-year average. This was the third warmest November on record. In 2001, Killington Ski Resort, the largest area in the east, recorded its latest opening date in more than 15 years.
Downhill skiing is not the only winter recreation to be affected. This year, some cross-country skiing trails have been devoid of snow, and ice-skating and snowshoeing opportunities have been unusually few and far between. Ice fishing has been sparse or non-existent in southern New England and many snowmobiling trails have been closed for much of the season.
Climate models predict that in the longer term global warming will eventually transform the conifer forest of northern New England into the type of forest now found farther south – either the deciduous forest of the Mid-Atlantic States, or the mixed forests characteristic of southern New England.
The conditions that currently support northern hardwood forests will shift up to 300 miles north during the next 100 years, causing the loss of these forests over much of the landscape. The distributions of white spruce, black spruce, red spruce, balsam fir and other species of cool climates will move north and these trees are likely to disappear from most of their current ranges in the Northeastern United States. If disturbances such as fire or storms increase as has been predicted by some scientists, this would hasten the decline and facilitate the northward spread of southern species like oak and hickory.
More than 300,000 people in New England and New York are employed in the forestry and forest products sector. Milder winters will likely increase the vulnerability of commercial forests to insect pests including eastern spruce budworm, gypsy moth and pear thrips. Any economic losses are likely to disproportionately affect smaller, non-industrial private landowners. More than 250,000 private forest landowners are likely to be affected in New England alone.
Global warming will tend to favor opportunistic, fast-moving and adaptable species. It is likely to prove to be a boon for many pests and invasive species that threaten regional biodiversity. Purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, Tartarian honeysuckle and Morrow honeysuckle are some of the troublesome non-native species that are predicted to benefit as others decline or disappear.
Higher summer temperatures and increased pollution from road traffic will likely contribute to greater ground-level ozone formation with the effect of reducing forest productivity and harming commercial tree species like red spruce and white pine. Ozone impacts are expected to be worst in southern New York and central and southern New England.
Changing temperature and precipitation patterns could harm the multi-million dollar fall foliage industry by muting autumn colors. Without sugar maple the autumn experience in New England would be very different. Fall-foliage tourism accounts for 20-25% of total annual tourism in Vermont and Maine. NERA estimated that a 50% drop in fall foliage tourism could result in approximately 20,000 job losses.
Climate change is a significant threat to the forest and alpine ecosystems of the most important public lands in the region, including Acadia National Park, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Baxter State Park, the White Mountains National Forest, and the Mount Washington State Park.
For some animals and plants, climate effects could prove to be disastrous. Many species characteristic of the northern forest will be forced to find new habitat as climate changes. Species already living at the southern edges of their ranges – like martens, fishers and snowshoe hares – will be among the most affected. Bird species that live in northern spruce and spruce/fir forests, including the gray jay, boreal chickadee, spruce grouse and the threatened Bicknell’s thrush, are particularly vulnerable to diminished habitat in New England.
A modeling study published by The World Wildlife Fund and Clean Air-Cool Planet in 2000, shows the habitats of the Northern Forest of New England and upstate New York to be especially vulnerable to climate change. According to this study up to 44% of Maine’s, and 35% of New Hampshire’s, existing terrestrial habitats are likely to be transformed into other ecosystem types under the most credible climate scenarios. In the most heavily impacted areas, the rates at which plant and animal species may be required to shift their ranges in response to global warming in the next 100 years may be as much as ten times faster than at the end of the last ice age.
According to a recent report by the American Bird Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation, a great many species of birds will be affected by climate change. Birding has become a major recreational activity in recent decades, with far-reaching economic consequences. In New England alone, in 1996, people spent more than $ 1.8 billion feeding and watching birds and other wildlife.
Several species of wood warbler are expected to extend their ranges northwards, perhaps by hundreds of miles, while disappearing at the southern edges of their current ranges. Five species, including the bay-breasted warbler and Cape May warbler are predicted to disappear from New England entirely. These birds help to keep spruce budworm outbreaks in check by consuming millions of larvae during the breeding season. If they are pushed northwards many forests could become much more vulnerable to insect pests. A study of 35 North American warbler species showed that 20% of them have already shifted their ranges an average of 65 miles northwards during the last 25 years.
The White Mountains are within a day’s drive of 77 million people and receive more visitors (7-8 million) every year than Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks combined. Recreational visitors in some of these areas may suffer increased health risks as a result of global warming
60,000 hikers a year visit Mount Washington and the major peaks for the White Mountains. On hot summer days there are often high levels of ground-level ozone, particulates and acid aerosols. All of these pose a threat to hikers. According to NERA, there is a striking correlation between hot days (warmer than 90°F), sunny skies and high levels of ozone pollution. Because long-distance transport of air pollutants appears to occur at the boundary between the mixing layer and the stable layer of the troposphere, at around 3,200 feet, hiking at these elevations or higher may expose hikers to damaging concentrations of dangerous air pollutants not experienced lower low down. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Appalachian Mountain Club, prolonged exposure to levels of ozone often encountered on trails in the White Mountains can reduce lung function and is especially damaging to people with a history of asthma or other respiratory problems.
Also a risk for people outdoors, even on the golf course or in their backyards is Lyme disease, which is already on the increase in New York and parts of New England. If undetected, the disease can lead to permanent neurological disability. Because it is passed along to humans by ticks, Lyme disease poses a special threat to people who enjoy outdoor pursuits like hiking, birding and fishing. Swedish research on ticks suggests that warmer winters could increase the incidence of the disease and push its potential range further into northern New England.
Heat waves kill more people in the US than hurricanes, flooding or tornadoes. Dr. Laurence Kalkstein, Associate Director of the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Delaware has suggested that heat-related deaths in the summertime could double under likely US global warming scenarios. Northern cities are especially vulnerable to heat waves because people are not used to, or acclimated to, high temperatures and humidity. Also building design in the north is more oriented toward keeping heat in during the winter than letting it out during the summer. The elderly and low-income households in urban areas are at highest risk.
The costs of climate impacts in the coastal zone may be particularly large. Sea levels are currently rising at about a foot per century. This rate is increasing and New England coastal communities will likely have to deal with sea level rise of around two feet this century. The State of New Hampshire has calculated that this will massively increase the area of the Seacoast vulnerable to flooding and could turn 100-year storms into 10-year storms. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a two-foot sea level rise would inundate about 10,000 square miles of coastline. Costly beach nourishment and shoreline armoring is already transforming the coast of New England. A three-foot sea level rise would result in half of our natural wetlands and beaches being lost and replaced with armored shores. Coastal development is rapidly closing off the option of natural retreat for many wetlands.
Coastal marine ecosystems and fisheries are also at risk. Warmer temperatures are expected to increase the incidence of toxic algal blooms and help the spread of warm water diseases of shellfish such as oysters. Winter seawater temperature in Narragansett Bay have already warmed by more than 5°F since 1960 and winter flounder populations have been in decline for 25 years. The flounders migrate inshore in the late fall and spawn in early spring. Winter flounders are adapted for low water temperatures in which most fish can’t survive and warm winters are hypothesized to be harming populations through reduced hatching rates and increased predation on larvae.
The Northeast states have long been leaders in reducing air pollution. The region also is now beginning to lead the way in responding to global warming.
In August 2001, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers signed a Climate Change Action Plan with the long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 75-85% from current levels. The Governors and Premiers concluded that global warming’s “multiple impacts will have substantial consequences for the cost and quality of life of the region’s citizens”. They noted that US national CO2 emissions have been growing more than 1% a year and stated “Given these increases in the face of doing nothing, this plan seeks to reverse the trend.”
Northeast leadership is not restricted to the states, however. Thirty-five cities and counties in the region have joined the Cities for Climate Protection Program of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. These municipalities have all passed resolutions pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement local climate action plans. For example, Burlington Vermont has adopted an ambitious plan - the“10% Challenge” - to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10% from 1990 levels by 2005.
Colleges and universities throughout the region are doing their part too. Tufts University has pledged to meet or beat the Kyoto Target. Clean Air-Cool Planet has worked with the University of New Hampshire to produce the most detailed greenhouse gas emissions inventory carried out for any college in the country - the precursor to a campus-wide climate plan. Similar projects are underway with the University of Vermont and Bates College in Maine. Students at Connecticut College have voted with their pocketbooks and signed the campus up for green electricity.
Many businesses in the Northeast are showing the way for the corporate sector. IBM (NY) and Johnson and Johnson (NJ) were the first to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets as members of the Climate Savers program of World Wildlife Fund and the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions. Pitney Bowes (CT) is a leader in developing corporate markets for green power and Timberland (NH) has partnered with Clean Air-Cool Planet and Vermont-based NativeEnergy to invest in new wind energy and permanently retire the CO2 credits from tradable renewable energy certificates (T-RECS). Other companies are convincingly demonstrating that common sense investments in energy saving can pay off handsomely.
For example, Massachusetts-based Shaw’s Supermarkets has 185 stores and employs nearly 30,000 people in New England. In 2000, Shaw’s realized $3.7 million from energy savings alone. Typically, a supermarket would have to sell $150 million worth of groceries to make that much money.
New York-based Verizon is another important leader in energy conservation. Its efforts are now producing $20 million a year in net savings. Verizon’s projects range from encouraging employees to turn off personal computers when not in use (saving approximately $50 in energy costs for each PC each year), and removing more than 200,000 unnecessary lights, to carrying out energy audits in more than 500 buildings and developing fuel cell systems.
Need for Federal Action to Control CO2
These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. All over New England and the Northeast, individuals, institutions and corporations are inventing, exploring and implementing innovative solutions to climate change. But this is not enough. John Donne famously said “no man is an island; entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. No individual, no city, no state and not even a region as big as a middle-sized nation, as the Northeast is, can solve the problem of climate change on its own. As everyone knows by now, the United States is the world’s largest single emitter of greenhouse gases. Without action by the United States we cannot hope to stabilize the world’s climate. Without national legislation, regional efforts such as those in the Northeast will founder and ultimately fail.
A strong national response to climate change and a modern energy policy are both crucial if we are to continue to grow our economy, strengthen the country’s energy security and act as responsible stewards of our environment.
Energy efficiency and alternative fuels are the real routes to energy security, not drilling in pristine wilderness areas. If we are serious about reducing our reliance on foreign oil and about competing in world markets we must produce more efficient automobiles. If we want energy security and more jobs we should aim to be producing 20% of our electricity for renewable resources – wind, solar, biomass and geothermal – by the year 2020.
Federal controls on CO2 are essential and urgently needed. By dealing with all four pollutants at once and promoting energy conservation the Clean Power Act can save us tens of millions of dollars in comparison to three pollutant strategies that focus only on end of pipe solutions and ignore carbon dioxide. Local and regional leadership such as is commonplace in the Northeast is important and groundbreaking. But, there can be no substitute for coordinated national action, and eventually, economy-wide controls on CO2.
Despite the fact that there is considerable uncertainty about the precise costs of impacts of climate change on New England, there is very little doubt that it will have a transformative effect on many of the attributes that make the region unique. The loss of sugar maples, changes in the northern forest, warmer winters, more frequent heat-waves and destruction of coastal wetlands will radically diminish the New England experience and may ultimately deliver a body blow to elements of the region’s economy.
Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today. I would be happy to try to answer any questions you may have.