The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a 2021 Report detailing what science currently tells us about how our climate is changing, what we can do to avoid the worst possible scenarios, and how our communities will be affected by climate change in coming years. Some highlights from the report:
- Human influence has unequivocally warmed the planet.
- Climate science is getting better and more precise.
- We are locked into 30 years of worsening climate impacts no matter what the world does.
- Climate changes are happening rapidly.
- There is still a window in which humans can alter the climate path.
What does this mean for me? I’m just one person, living in a small Upper Valley town. What can I possibly do about this?
A lot, actually. But, remember…
- Making changes in your own life is good (e.g., what you purchase, how you use energy), but not enough. To be a local climate leader, you must inspire your neighbors to take action as well.
- Reducing our carbon footprint is good, but not enough. You must also find ways to prepare your community for inevitable climate impacts. Many of which we are already seeing. While climate change is a global issue, we feel the effects of climate change at a very local scale. What specific effects of climate change are most important in your neighborhood?
- You cannot possibly do EVERYTHING; it is enough to do a few things. It is often better to do a few things well, rather than many things poorly. All of our small efforts add up.
- Be loud and proud! Whatever you are doing to address climate change in your community, talk about it with anyone who will listen. Your efforts will inspire others to take action and build on what you learn.
So, what CAN you do as a local climate leader?
To reduce carbon emissions, encourage your neighbors to invest in clean energy technology like electric cars, solar panels, home weatherization. As you can see in Vermont’s 2020/2020 Energy Progress Report, transportation and heating account for the majority of carbon emissions in our region.
- Organize a bulk purchasing club to help lower the cost for a critical mass of neighbors.
(EXAMPLE: Solarize Upper Valley)
- Collect and share stories and advice from neighbors.
(EXAMPLE: Thetford EV Ambassadors)
- Research and help neighbors connect with programs for people who can’t afford to purchase clean energy technology and services.
(EXAMPLE: Energy Help website)
- Start a town energy committee to help your town reduce carbon emissions and energy use from town-owned buildings, vehicles, and infrastructure.
(Learn more about town energy committees)
- Ask your elected leaders to increase funding for programs that help lower the cost of clean energy for all.
To address the effects of climate change on your community, start by understanding what climate change will mean in your community. In our region, climate change means:
- Warmer temperatures (higher seasonal highs and lows; higher average temperatures; nights warming faster than days)
- Extreme weather events (extreme temperatures, strong winds, extreme precipitation events)
- Less snow cover and shorter winters
- Increased precipitation (in terms of annual averages and an increase of 1.5 inches per decade since 1960)
How will these changes impact our communities?
- Flood damage (property loss, damaged roadways, poor water quality, erosion of topsoil in agricultural and forest lands, expense of repairing and rebuilding with greater frequency)
- Economic challenges (threats to winter recreation, farms, and small businesses)
- Climate migration (our region’s population is expected to grow significantly in the coming decades)
- Public health (tick and mosquito-borne diseases, higher levels of pollen, dangers of heatwaves for the elderly people, young children, and other at-risk populations)
- Biodiversity (rapidly changing habitat and introduction of invasive species and diseases)
- Drought (serious risks posed to our groundwater supply and threats to agricultural production)
What can you do to help your community adapt to the reality of a changing climate?
- Get to know your neighbors. Who relies on electricity to run medical devices? Who has a tractor? Who doesn’t have air conditioning? When extreme weather arrives, the best and quickest help often comes from within your own neighborhood.
- Maintain the culverts in your neighborhood. Keep them clear of debris and notify your town if they need repair. Well maintained culverts can prevent your road from washing out in the next extreme rain event.
- Research and share information about climate-related threats (e.g., ticks, invasive tree pests, culvert maintenance, health risks of extreme heat).
- Raise money to help your local farmer buy agricultural materials, supplies, and equipment that will make it easier to grow food in the midst of drought, extreme weather events, and unpredictable growing seasons.
- Write a Climate Adaptation Plan for your town, and encourage town leaders to plan ahead (e.g. emergency plans for extreme heat and precipitation events; flood mitigation plans to upgrade culverts and preserve wetlands as natural flood absorbers; zoning to discourage development in flood risk areas).
- Upper Valley Climate Action Discussion List – a free email discussion list hosted by Vital Communities
- Upper Valley Climate Adaptation Workgroup
- Vermont Energy Action Network’s 2020/2021 Energy Progress Report, includes easy-to-understand information about what is needed to meet Vermont’s energy and climate goals
- Town Transportation Toolkit – How Upper Valley communities can cut climate impacts of transportation while
improving transportation options
Vital Communities wants to hear from YOU! Keep in touch and let us know how you are taking action and leading the way.
Sarah Brock, Program Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tony Grasso, Project Coordinator, email@example.com
Written by Sarah Brock, Vital Communities Program Director, Climate Energy Transportation