Vermonters worry that global warming poses threat
By LOUIS PORTER Vermont Press Bureau | February 18,2006
MONTPELIER — The possibility that global warming will gradually dry up the flow of maple sap worries Burr Morse, whose family has been syrup makers for almost as many generations as they have been Vermonters, he said Friday.
Morse and a handful of activists and citizens from around Vermont gathered at the Statehouse for the release of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group's report on local impacts of global climate change.
That report is an attempt to put a Vermont face on the impacts of climate change, said James Moore of VPIRG.
"My people have been sugaring about as long as anyone has in the state," he said. But "we absolutely need the perfect weather."
That means warm spring days with cold nights and winds predominantly from the West, said Morse, whose family runs the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks on County Road in East Montpelier.
"I am not a person to run around and say the sky is falling," Morse said. "I used to write the whole notion of global warming off. I'm over that. If we have done something to cause it we need to undo it."
An optimist, like most syrup makers, Morse said he still hopes for a good season this year.
But over the long term maple trees need long cold winters to rest if they are to produce sap for syruping. And this year's unusually warm weather and little snow make him wonder about that future, he said.
But it didn't stop Morse from taking a gentle shot at rival New Hampshire and its loss of a state symbol, the Old Man of the Mountain rock formation.
"Maple is Vermont, Vermont is maple," Morse said. "It's equal to lobster in Maine, it's equal to oranges in Florida, it's equal to the Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire."
Global warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, has been caused primarily by the release of "greenhouse gases" — such as carbon dioxide — due to the burning of fossil fuels.
Over the last century, and especially in the last two decades, the temperature of the Earth's surface has increased by about one degree Fahrenheit. That seemingly small change can cause not only increases in air temperature, experts say, but also an increase in sea level and erratic weather patterns, including more hurricanes.
The Rev. Claire North of Sunderland Union Church said she is worried about the health implications of a warmer climate. A founder of a lyme disease patient support network, North said that lyme-carrying ticks are living longer and spreading the disease longer during milder winters.
"I don't feel safe outside anymore," she said. "I sorely miss our winters."
North added that she and a Manchester-area veterinarian she works with have been finding ticks on dogs — even in the winter.
"I'm not here to talk to you about religion. I'm here to talk to you about spirituality," she said. "Put your feet on the planet with love and with humility."
Sen. Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden, said her Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is working on bills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont and to help increase the amount of renewable energy produced in the state.
Lyons called knowledge of global warming "a sobering awareness." It's like "hearing about a fatal illness in a friend or a relative or oneself," she said.
Serious debate over whether global warming is a reality is over — at least outside Washington, D.C., said Bill McKibben of Middlebury College.
Signs like the intensity of Hurricane Katrina — and the fact that the National Hurricane Center this year ran out of letters in the alphabet to name storms and had to resort to the Greek alphabet — are major signs of global warming, he said.
But Vermont's lack of snow this year is a local sign of the same problem, McKibben said.
"Winter after winter that resembles a long, chilly mud season is one of the most depressing things I can imagine," he said. "We are getting a taste of what we can expect unless we take dramatic action."
That means eating local food that hasn't been shipped across the country and better insulating houses to save energy, McKibben said.
It also means more renewable energy, greater electricity efficiency and more efficient cars, said Michael Dworkin, former chairman of the Public Service Board and now head of Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment.
"Everything we see is consistent with an accelerating pace of climate change caused by human pollution," Dworkin said.
Most greenhouse gases are caused by vehicles or power generation, he said.
Thomas Torti, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said that many of VPIRG's suggestions are also part of Gov. James Douglas climate-change action plan.
"There is a lot of commonality," he said. "I think it is wonderful that the Legislature and VPIRG have embraced the principles the governor has lined out."
Moore said VPIRG is eager to see Douglas take action.
"I am glad the governor has started a commission of climate change just this year," he said. "Actions speak louder than words."
Contact Louis Porter at email@example.com.