Vermont Interfaith Power and Light

A faith-based response to global climate change

How will emissions choices affect the likely climate future for the Northeast?
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NECIA climate projections found that over the next several decades, temperatures across the Northeast will rise 2.5°F to 4°F in winter and 1.5°F to 3.5°F in summer regardless of the emissions choices we make now (due to heat-trapping emissions released in the recent past). By mid-century and beyond, however, today’s emissions choices generate starkly different climate futures.

Confronting climate change in the U.S. Northeast

By late this century, under the higher-emissions scenario:

  • Winters in the Northeast could warm by 8°F to 12°F and summers by 6°F to 14°F above historic levels.
  • The length of the winter snow season could be cut in half across northern New York, Vermont,
  • New Hampshire, and Maine, and reduced to a week or two in southern parts of the region.
  • Cities across the Northeast, which today experience few days above 100°F each summer, could average 20 such days per summer, and more southern cities such as Hartford and Philadelphia could average nearly 30 days.
  • Short-term (one- to three-month) droughts could occur as frequently as once each summer in the area of the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and across the New England states.
  • Hot summer conditions could arrive three weeks earlier and last three weeks longer into the fall.
  • Global average sea level is conservatively projected to rise one to two feet.

In contrast, substantially smaller climate-related changes can be expected if the Northeast and the world reduce emissions consistent with the lower-emissions scenario used in this study—typically, about half the change expected under the higher-emissions scenario. For example, Northeast winters are projected to warm 5°F to 8°F above historic levels by late-century, and summers by 3°F to 7°F.

This report builds upon and extends these findings. NECIA collaborators—leading scientists and economists from universities and research institutions across the Northeast and the nation—have used the NECIA climate projections to assess the impacts of these two very different future Northeast climates on vital aspects of the region’s life and economy: coastal areas, marine fisheries, forests, agriculture, winter recreation, and human health. They also describe actions that can be taken today in the Northeast to reduce emissions and help avoid the most severe impacts of global warming and to adapt to the unavoidable changes that past emissions have already set in motion.

What might the climate changes projected under the higher- or lower emissions scenarios mean for the economy and quality of life in the Northeast?

By late this century, if the higher-emissions scenario prevails:

  • The extreme coastal flooding that now occurs only once a century could strike New York City on average once every decade.
  • Increasing water temperatures may make the storied fishing grounds of Georges Bank unfavorable for cod.
  • Pittsburgh and Concord, NH, could each swelter through roughly 25 days over 100°F every summer—compared with roughly one day per summer historically—and even typically cool cities such as Buffalo could average 14 days over 100°F each year, amplifying the risk of heat-related illnesses and death among vulnerable populations.
  • In Philadelphia, which already ranks tenth in the nation for ozone pollution, the number of days failing to meet federal air-quality standards is projected to quadruple (if local vehicle and industrial emissions of ozone-forming pollutants are not reduced).
  • Only western Maine is projected to retain a reliable ski season.
  • The hemlock stands that shade and cool many of the Northeast’s streams could be lost—much like the American elm—to a pest that thrives in warmer weather, further threatening native brook trout in the Adirondacks and elsewhere.
  • Climate conditions suitable for maple/beech/birch forests are projected to shift dramatically northward, while conditions suitable for spruce/fir forests—a primary source of sawlogs and pulpwood as well as a favored recreation destination—would all but disappear from the region.
  • As their forest habitat changes, many migratory songbirds such as the Baltimore oriole, American goldfinch, and song sparrow are expected to become less abundant.
  • Parts of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other areas in the Northeast are likely to become unsuitable for growing certain popular varieties of apples, blueberries, and cranberries.
  • Unless farmers can afford cooling technologies, milk production across much of the region is projected to decline 5 to 20 in certain months.

If, instead, the region and the world begin now to make the transition to the lower-emissions pathway:

  • New York City is projected to face today’s 100-year flood every two decades on average.
  • Georges Bank would remain suitable for adult cod, although yield and productivity may decline as these waters become less hospitable for the spawning and survival of young cod.
  • Philadelphia’s severe ozone-pollution days will increase by 50 percent (assuming that local vehicle and industrial emissions of ozone-forming pollutants are not reduced).
  • In addition to western Maine, the North Country of New York and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire may retain reliable ski seasons.
  • Climate conditions suitable for maple/beech/birch forests would shift only in the southern part of the region.
  • Winter temperatures may prevent a deadly hemlock pest from infesting the northern part of the region.
  • Less extensive (although still substantial) changes in the region’s bird life are expected.
  • Much of the region is projected to remain suitable for traditional apple and berry crops.
  • Reductions in milk production (up to 10 percent) would remain confined primarily to New Jersey and small areas of Pennsylvania.

In many cases, however, the impacts of global warming are projected to be similar under either of the two emissions scenarios presented here.

  • Atlantic City, NJ, and Boston are expected to experience today’s once-a-century coastal flooding once every year or two on average by the end of the century.
  • The lobster fisheries in Long Island Sound and the coastal waters off Rhode Island and south of Cape Cod are likely to decline significantly by mid-century, and cod are expected to disappear from these southern waters by century’s end.
  • The number of days over 90°F is expected to triple in many of the region’s cities, including Boston, Buffalo, and Concord, NH.
  • Hotter, longer, drier summers punctuated by heavy rainstorms may create favorable conditions for more frequent outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease such as West Nile virus.
  • Most of the region is likely to have a marginal or non-existent snowmobile season by mid-century.
  • Warmer winters will shorten the average ski and snowboard seasons, increase snowmaking requirements, and drive up operating costs.
  • Spruce/fir forests such as the Great North Woods are expected to lose significant area, diminishing their value for timber, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Certain species that depend on these forests, such as the Bicknell’s thrush, are projected to disappear from the region.
  • Weed problems and pest-related damage are expected to escalate, increasing pressures on farmers to use more herbicides and pesticides.

Source: Northeast Climate Impact Assessment, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast: Science, Impacts, and Solutions, Prepared by the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment Synthesis Team, July 2007. (Note: The complete 146-page report is available on the VT Interfaith Power & Light website – www.vtipl.org – in the Resources section.)

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