The Climate Crisis
The greatest threat, challenge and opportunity faced by humanity.
Here at the Monadnock Sustainability Hub, we are dedicated to helping our region address the climate crisis. But what does that mean?
Just the Facts
- Climate change is the long term change in the average weather patterns, including rising temperatures.
- Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by human activity (primarily the burning of fossil fuels).
- The United States is one of the largest contributors to global GHG emissions.
- Climate change is causing a rise in global sea levels, intensified storms and wildfires, & droughts.
- Within decades, New Hampshire’s climate will be like that of present day North Carolina.
- Climate change threatens the future of our economy, public health, earth’s wildlife, & the quality of life for present & future generations.
What Is Climate Change?
In short, climate change is the long term change in the average weather patterns from changes in rainfall to the rising temperatures. Over the past century our planet’s temperature has risen significantly. From 1880 to 2012, the average global temperature increased by 0.85°C, or 1.5°F. That may not seem like much, but this rise in temperature is leading to a rise in global sea levels, increased severity and frequency of storms and wildfires, droughts, and threats to many animal and plant populations.
What Causes Climate Change?
Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, clogging the upper atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine that people can affect our planet in such a profound way, but since the 1850’s mankind has built millions of trains, ships, cars, planes, buildings and power plants, all pumping gases into the atmosphere. Some of these gases—including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxides—have acted like a greenhouse does, trapping heat in the atmosphere.
For tens of thousands of years carbon dioxide (CO2) levels averaged 280 PPM. As a result of fossil fuel burning, we have increasingly raised this each year to a frightening 417 PPM now. These high CO2 levels are trapping heat and raising air and ocean temperatures. We are now seeing unprecedented droughts and record shattering fires and storms, amongst other significant impacts on our planet’s ecosystem. We’re playing carbon roulette with our safety and well-being and it gets worse every year.
CO2 accounts for 76% of our global greenhouse gas emissions, followed by methane at 16%. The reason why CO2 is especially concerning is that once emitted, it can remain in the atmosphere for 300 to 1000 years. Even if we were to stop all CO2 emitting activities right now, our planet’s climate will be adversely affected for centuries to come.
Who’s Responsible For CO2 Emissions?
Historically, the United States has been the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions for decades; only in 2005 did China surpass the United States as the top emitter. In 2018, the United States was responsible for 15% of the world’s CO2 emissions. As of 2018, transportation, electricity, and industry were the largest players in our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (see chart).
What Are The Costs of Climate Change?
Rising temperatures are causing dangerous disruptions to weather, glaciers to shrink, loss of sea ice, and rising sea levels. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population lives in coastal areas, and eight of the world’s ten largest cities are near the coast. As sea levels rise, the climate migration of coastal refugees will be staggering across the globe. Climate migration inside the United States is already underway, most notably fueled by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and by the severe wildfires in the West. A 2020 report found that by 2050, the climate crisis could displace more than 100 million people world-wide: creating 86 million climate refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million in South Asia, and 17 million in Latin America.
- Weather related disasters are increasing: from 1980- 2020 the average number of events costing over $1 BN was 6.6. But from 2015-2019 the average was 13.8 and in the first 10 months of 2020 there have been 16 weather related disasters costing over $1BN! California has seen 5 of its 6 largest fires in history in 2020 burning 4.1 MN acres, over 10,000 structures and accounting for over 100 lives lost. Unprecedented fires in Alaska, Siberia, and even Maine are an ominous sign of what is to come.
- Chronic flooding and displaced communities due to sea level rise: Rising sea levels will threaten the homes of millions of people living along the United States coast; more than 300,000 homes—representing a value of $117.5 billion— are at risk of chronic flooding by 2045. By 2100, that number is projected to increase to 2.4 million homes representing a cumulative $1 trillion price tag. Inland flooding caused by intense rain events adds to this tragedy.
- Damage caused by climate change will be very costly: By 2100, national costs resulting from hurricane damage, real estate losses, and energy and costs alone will amount to 1.9 trillion dollars annually— that’s 1.8% of our national GDP. This does not account for disruptions to food supply and chaos in failed nations. The longer we wait to address climate change, the higher this price tag becomes.
- The economic risks and costs of climate inaction are exponentially greater than the cost of acting now. The cost to shift our economy away from dirty fuels and carbon emissions may be in the billions, but failing to address the climate crisis will cost trillions of dollars, along with the loss of human and countless species lives.
Health Risks for Humans & Other Species
- Public health risk and associated costs: Between 2030 and 2050, heatwaves and other climate changes will cause an estimated 250,000 deaths annually from malaria, heat stress, and malnutrition. The direct cost to health is estimated to be between $2 – $4 billion annually by 2030.
- Unusual weather patterns also affect human health. The effects of climate change threaten clean air, safe drinking water, and food supply. Warmer temperatures and changing rainfall patterns increase the presence and spread of vector borne diseases.
- Plant and animal species are threatened with extinction: Climate change is resulting in habitat loss, exploitation of nature, pollution, and the spread of invasive species. As a result, one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction within a matter of decades.
Climate Change in New Hampshire
As global natural systems deteriorate in the face of climate change, our local environment and economy are severely threatened: NH Climate Change. In the next 50 years, as global temperature rises, New Hampshire summer and winter temperatures are projected to rise 5°F resulting in extreme summer heat, more severe rain events and less winter snow cover. By the end of this century, our state climate is expected to be comparable to that of current day North Carolina!
Climate change’s impact on winter recreation will hurt NH jobs and economy that rely on seasonal tourism and outdoor recreation. Warmer New Hampshire winters accompanied by less snow and more rainfall are expected to result in a 10 to 20% loss of “skiable” days. This puts the $152 million that “snow” activities contributes annually to the state economy at risk.
The NH forest products industry provides significant jobs and business opportunities, many if not all affected by projected climate change. Throughout New England, the maple syrup industry may shrink by half by the end of the century due to detrimental effects on maple trees and the tapping season. And our hemlock trees will be threatened by invasive plant species. The loss of the hemlocks will be a severe jolt to our forests, threatening the habitat of forest dwelling bird species.
These are just two examples of many forest tree species expected to decline in the heat of the coming years. As forests die off, fire prone material will accumulate on the forest floor. And so, coupled with extreme, drying summer heat events, future NH fire seasons are likely to become longer and more intense. There is nothing that says severe fire events are confined to the Western United States; in New Hampshire we need to be very concerned and vigilant.
Depending upon a stable climate and forest home, wildlife in New Hampshire is in a precarious position. Moose and loon populations are in decline because of adverse effects of climate change on seasonal temperature, habitat and growth of parasite populations. The plight of these species is considered a “canary in the coal mine” warning of the looming perils to wildlife and ecosystem stability in our region.
Climate Change Solutions
To avoid famine, mass migrations, failed states and chaos, we must drastically lower our carbon emissions and sequester (remove) greenhouse gases currently existing in our atmosphere. Because we have long ignored the warnings, there is no longer a single silver bullet that will solve climate change. It will take a society-wide, coordinated mobilization of actions and policies to somehow slow and stop the temperature rise. For more information on policies that are most effective and those that are less so, check out the En-ROADs Climate Simulator.
The Cost of Carbon
The single, most cost-effective way to reduce harmful carbon in the air is to put a price on it that reflects the damage being done. We are drastically and adversely altering the climate by freely burning dirty carbon based fuels. To be fair we must charge for this pollution and return that money to the people.
We, following thousands of organizations, economists, and political leaders, support putting a price on dangerous greenhouse gas emissions along with a means of returning the pollution fees to the citizens. This idea is known as a Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) and/or Carbon Cashback policy.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, HR2307 is projected to bring greenhouse gas emissions down 40 percent by 2032 while giving the cash back to households as dividends.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is…
- Effective: It would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by placing a fee on carbon-based fuels at the source (at the well, mine, or port of national entry). Doing so is projected to also create over 2.8 million jobs nationwide.
- Efficient: It would provide clear market price signals for climate-smart investments and incentivize a speedy transition to clean energy and transportation.
- Equitable: All revenue generated from the carbon fee would be returned to US citizens in the form of a dividend. About 2/3 of American households would break even or receive more in their dividends than they would pay in higher prices due to the fee, thereby protecting the poor and middle class. Ultimately, it will save lives, reduce conflict and improve the well-being of future generations.
- Everywhere: This is a cornerstone of climate solutions because it would drive system wide changes promoting clean energy and health savings throughout the economy.
This important legislation would apply a steadily increasing fee on greenhouse gas emissions, which would shift the market and entire economy from fossil fuels to clean energy.
Please take action and let your voice be heard! Contact your representative to voice your support of bill HR763!
A Foundation of Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency means finding ways to use or waste less energy to get the same result. This is the foundation upon which all the many climate solutions rest. The most effective and least costly way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to use less energy (neg-a-watts) and less carbon polluting fossil fuel.
Under a Carbon Fee and Dividend program, energy efficiency becomes a market driven goal. As the price of carbon goes up, increased attention is put on ways to minimize energy waste and methods to get more from lesser amounts of carbon-based energy sources.
Host a Climate Solutions Workshop
MSH offers Climate Solutions Workshops to help educate our community about effective climate solutions. During these workshops, the effects of various actions on global temperature are explored first hand using the En-ROADS Climate Simulator. Contact us to learn more.
Additional Climate Actions to Reduce Carbon Emissions
Switch To Clean Renewable Energy Sources
We must produce our power from clean and renewable energy sources. Such sources—including solar, wind, and local hydro—do not release greenhouse gases or pollutants when generating electricity. And the renewable fuel sources are abundant and free!
This is already feasible and cost effective. The cost of renewable energy is dramatically decreasing. Solar costs declined 89% between 1990 and 2018, and continue to decline. Today, investments in renewable solar and wind facilities are less expensive than investing in fossil fuel generation.
However, adopting clean and renewable energy sources will not matter unless we also cut back on—and quickly eliminate— the use of fossil fuel-based energy. We must replace our use of fossil fuels with renewables, not just add renewables to an increasing use of fossil fuel energy.
MSH supports the Monadnock Region transition to clean and renewable energy sources through the following programs:
Electrification of Built Infrastructure
In 2018, the commercial and residential sector accounted for 28% of our national greenhouse gas emissions. To lessen greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, we should transition from fossil fuels to clean electricity for power, heat, and air conditioning.
Energy efficiency analysis and upgrading of existing buildings is fundamental. All new construction must meet the most rigorous building efficiency standards so as to require the least amount of annual energy use.
Installing state of the art LED lighting for all old and new structures will quickly reduce electricity use and pay for itself. New air and ground source electric heat pumps are more energy efficient and cost effective than burning oil or gas for heat and can be used to cool the building.
Building efficiency standards, policies and codes, from local to international, need to be updated and adopted. Doing so will not only reduce emissions from the building sector, but cost less in the long term. Governments and utilities must strongly support building energy retrofit programs that provide information and financial support for all cases. Discover more resources here.
In 2018, transportation accounted for 29% of our national greenhouse gas emissions.
We are in the midst of an amazing transportation transformation! Electric vehicles (EV) are three times more efficient users of power, produce no tailpipe emissions (nor greenhouse gasses), cost less to maintain, and have proven to cost less over the life of the vehicle than gasoline powered vehicles. And so, as the cost of new EVs drops and more used ones become available, EVs are set to take over the roadways..
EVs enable us to use clean and renewable energy sources to power our cars and transport goods eliminating the carbon emissions from polluting fossil fuel vehicles.
MSH supports our the Monadnock Region’s transition to electric transportation through the following programs:
A Carbon Lean Industrial Sector
Industry is responsible for more than 20% of heat trapping greenhouse gas emissions. With high energy demand, industrial processes drive almost half of the emissions coming from the generation of electricity. Cement, iron, steel and aluminum use the most energy and produce the most emissions, but are not alone; thousands of other products—including fertilizers, paper, plastics, processed foods, and textiles—add to the problem.
A few of the many opportunities for industry to cut greenhouse emissions include the following:
- Refine processes to use less energy.
- Switch to no carbon energy sources.
- Generate clean electricity on site.
- Develop cradle to grave cycles for products, avoiding waste and pollution at life’s end
- Replace high carbon materials with low carbon materials.
- Limit emissions through leakage, during processing and off gassing during product life.
- Replace greenhouse gas refrigerants and propellants with benign alternatives.
- Identify waste and repurpose as something of value.
- Recycle extensively; look at waste as a resource.
- Divert all organic waste from landfill to compost facility.
- Ensure proper landfill management including capture of methane gas emissions.
Climate Friendly Agricultural Practices
Depending upon how counted, agriculture is responsible for 10% to 30 % or more of human caused greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural emissions include methane and nitrous oxide as well as carbon dioxide. Methane is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, but much more short lived. Methane is created in low oxygen agricultural settings such as rice paddies, industrial livestock facilities, and in the stomachs of ruminants such as cows and sheep. Nitrous oxide gas is produced from application of agricultural fertilizer and is 100 times more potent in warming the atmosphere than CO2.
These existing climate friendly agricultural practices are ready for adoption:
- Low input, minimal chemical agriculture
- No till soil carbon management
- Rotational grazing to replace some confined livestock feeding operations
- Feeding techniques that minimize methane from cows
- Energy efficiency and reduction in inputs and machinery
- On-farm renewable energy production
Removing Carbon From the Atmosphere
So far, we have looked at reducing the release of new greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But we have waited too long. Stopping new carbon emissions alone will not be sufficient to maintain a stable climate.
We will also have to take carbon dioxide out of the air to lessen the future rise in global temperature. Carbon removal can take numerous forms, from using natural carbon cycle systems to developing new technologies. The big question is whether any or all of these approaches can remove carbon at the immediate scale required in the coming decades. Unfortunately, the longer we pump greenhouse gasses the more money we’ll spend on developing techniques to remove carbon.
Carbon Removal Via Enhanced Natural Systems
Trees and forests hold huge amounts of carbon which they remove from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. One of the cheapest ways to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere is to protect and restore living natural landscapes. Over 10 billion trees are lost each year across the globe as forests are cut for harvest or development or exposed to climate induced firestorms. Increased conservation and protection of existing natural places is essential.
Well organized programs that ensure seedling survival after planting are focused on expanding global reforestation. Tree planting has the potential to pull significant amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere over a period of decades, but land availability and implementation present significant obstacles to large scale reforestation. Coupled with the slow rate of tree growth, reforestation alone will not make a meaningful, immediate impact on temperature change.
The Earth’s soils contain three times the carbon found in the atmosphere and are a vast, often unrecognized natural storehouse of carbon. But agricultural soils are running a big carbon deficit. Intensive tillage exposes soil carbon to oxygen leading to off gassing of carbon dioxide. Relatively small changes in agricultural practices, such as no till and planting cover crops, have been demonstrated to build up carbon in the soil. More carbon means a healthier soil holding more nutrients and water and more beneficial to crops.
But some studies show that farm soil carbonization may not be a short term solution for climate change. While scientists are not debating the long term potential of soil carbon storage, there remain questions about the near term impact. Meanwhile, the co-benefits of adopting practices that increase soil carbon levels are clear and substantial. Agriculture needs to adopt an enhanced soil carbon farming paradigm.
The weathering of rock naturally absorbs CO2 and it is thought that large quantities of crushed rock spread across the landscape could accelerate significant carbon absorption. But the cost and logistical difficulties present significant barriers to enhanced rock weathering as a carbon capture method.
Carbon Removal Via New Technology
Industrial carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies are uncertain and emerging, still undergoing development or pilot testing. High cost and high energy demand are two of many barriers that must be overcome before these technologies can be effectively deployed.
At-the-source carbon removal techniques for power plant emissions are too costly for widespread adoption. This technology is primarily focused on large sources of combustion while much of the carbon emitted is from widely dispersed burning of fossil fuels. Once again, the urgent need to transition power generation from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources is underscored.
Carbon can be captured by using machines to extract it from the air. Such direct air extraction has proven possible at pilot sites but is not yet fully cost or energy effective at commercial scale. Millions of such machines would have to be powered and dispersed across the globe to address the problem. Research and development of these emergent technologies must be urgently ramped up and fully funded. A carbon price and other enabling policies are essential to encourage further investment.
Co-Benefits of Addressing Climate Change
Actions taken against climate change provide further benefits to the economy, public health, and social justice.
Clean energy supports local economies: In 2012, Northern New England (including New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine) spent more than $12.4 billion on energy— $8.2 billion of which was spent on imported fossil fuels. Two thirds of the money we spend on energy leaves our regional economy! Switching to local sources of renewable energy will keep more of our energy dollars circulating here at home.
Clean energy investments create more jobs than fossil fuel spending: $1 million invested in clean energy development results in about 16.7 new jobs, while the same amount invested in fossil fuels creates just 5.3 jobs. Clean energy investments create over three times the jobs than do similar investments in fossil fuels.
Clean energy directly improves public health: The extraction and burning of fossil fuels create harmful air pollutants and fouls our water. Transitioning to clean energy will immediately reduce these. In fact, the U.S. could avoid 400,000 deaths from air pollution by 2050 by switching to clean energy. In doing so, we could save $3.5 trillion in avoided health impacts. The improved public health benefits and cost savings provided by adopting clean energy may justify this switch alone!
Climate change is a social justice concern: Often the communities most harmed by the effects of climate change are not the main contributors to the problem. Implemented thoughtfully and equitably, climate solutions will also address social and economic injustices.
Join with the Monadnock Sustainability Hub in urgent and thoughtful climate actions that create jobs, stimulate the economy, and make the post-pandemic world safer, cleaner, brighter and more resilient for everyone.