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Scientific knowledge about climate change is constantly growing and improving.  While there are still some unanswered questions, the volumes of peer-reviewed scientific research continue to underscore the link between GHG emissions from human activities and recent changes in the Earth’s climate.  Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) effectively trap heat energy from the Sun to maintain a relatively warm constant temperature which makes life as we know it on the planet possible.  Rapidly increasing GHG emissions from human activities have occurred since the Industrial Revolution (especially from fuels burned for transportation, electricity generation, space heating, etc.).  This ongoing increase in the pool of atmospheric GHGs causes more of the Sun’s energy to be retained, thereby raising global temperatures.

 

Current CO2 level in the atmosphere
Current Atmospheric CO2 Concentration (ppm)
(CO2Now.org)

Globe
It’s very important to remember that this phenomenon is “global”, and that the Earth as a whole is still warming even if a more specific “locality” like central Vermont has a unusually cold winter, or a cooler than normal summer.  According to NASA scientists, 2012 was the ninth warmest year since 1880. This continues a trend in which nine of the ten warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000 (Link) ; and NOAA reports that 2012 marks the 36th consecutive year that yearly global temperture was above the 20th century average (Link) .
In January 2000, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (as measured by NOAA) was approximately 369 parts per million.  Compare that concentration with the current concentration displayed above.  Based on long term historical CO2 concentration data derived from ice core samples this is the highest level of CO2 in the atmosphere in at least 650,000 years.

For more information on climate change & Vermont, take a look at the following links:

History

 

The idea that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere could result in increasing global temperatures is not new.  In a paper published in 1896, Swedish chemist  Svante Arrhenius quantified the effect of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations on temperature.  Since then there has been a great effort to research and model the earth’s complex and interrelated systems in order to understand the effects of atmospheric emissions on climate. 

Historical CO2 Graph
Histical Graph of CO2 Concentration in the atmosphere.
(NOAA National Climactic Data Center)
In 1989 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program to act as a focal point for climate change research and science.  In a series of assessment reports first published in 1990, the IPCC has documented with increasing levels of certainty the overall warming of the planet and the relationship between warming and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Adaptation (link)

 

Reducing our emissions of GHGs to the atmosphere is the first key step to avoid the most extreme effects of climate change.  However, since GHGs remain in the atmosphere for a very long time, we can expect to experience some degree of climate change from the GHG’s that have already been released.  It’s becoming clear that adaptation planning will be necessary to help protect Vermont’s most vulnerable assets and infrastructure.  This planning requires several vital components:

  • The 2007 Governor’s Commission on Climate Change Final Report and the subsequent Climate Change Transition Team report recommend that the state develop a comprehensive state climate change adaptation plan. 
  • The State of Vermont has adopted the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers’ Climate Change Action Plan (2001), and Resolution 33-3 (2009) which continues to promote climate change mitigation strategies as well as climate change adaptation planning in the region.
  • Vermont’s Agency of Transportation (VTrans) 2008 Climate Change Action Plan commits to “Protecting Vermont’s Transportation Infra-structure from the Effects of Climate Change.”
Knowledge
  • Vermont is establishing 8 sentinel stream reaches in Vermont to monitor trends in climate-related alterations to aquatic ecology.
  • As part of the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative, Vermont is continuing to monitor spring phenology with respect to climate change impacts on the State’s highest peak (Mt Mansfield), and is monitoring the influence of climate change on forest demography.
Action
  • Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is organizing a inter-departmental team to begin to lay the groundwork for vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning;
  • Vermont is continuing to promote floodplain and river corridor protection at the municipal and state level as a mechanism to build local resilience to the impacts from flooding associated with extreme precipitation events;
  • Vermont is participating in a regional state wildlife grant with New York, New Hampshire, and Maine to conserve several regionally important wildlife linkage areas and ensure landscape scale connectivity as means for Climate Change adaptation.
 
 
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