Of course, it can be useful to focus in depth on one or another specific aspect of the overall climate picture, but it is also important to recognize the ways in which these different impacts are connected. The implication that our economy is somehow completely separate from our nation’s ecosystems, and indeed ecosystems around the world, is a fallacy that has been around for ages. In truth, our economy has always been intimately tied to ecology, and this has always been obvious to those who look. We’ve always known that while resources like fish, lumber, and game are self-renewing, if we over-harvest, they won’t be able to keep up, and those whose livelihoods rely on them will be without jobs. Even more basically, bad weather can make for bad business, and history has shown that when a nation becomes poorer and hungrier than it was, stable societies can be shaken up or taken down.
As the climate has warmed in recent decades, many things are changing. This past year, we’ve heard farmers telling us that it was literally too hot for corn to pollinate, and the droughts have been crushing production across the country. This, in many ways, is the most obvious impact. As the temperature continues to rise, so to will food prices. In the Gulf of Maine, fishermen and lobstermen are seeing their stocks change behavior and movement patterns. Shellfish in the ocean are developing various ailments as the ocean’s pH falls. The loss in cold, freshwater fishing revenues across the country has been estimated at $80-90 million per year, rising to as $300 million as the 21st century progresses. Much of this will be due to impacts on common freshwater game fish species; some of which have already been observed in New York.
On land, warm winters do a lot of economic damage in areas where winter tourism is a significant part of the economy. In NH, winter visitors spent about 20% per day more than the annual average, and warm, low-snow winters result in 33% fewer visitors, 15% fewer alpine ski tickets sold, 30% fewer Nordic ski tickets sold, and a similar decline in winter fishing licenses and snowmobile registration. The impact from all this amounts to over 13 million dollars lost in a given warm winter. A “bad winter” is one that is five degrees warmer than average, and current projections show winter temperatures increasing by six degrees by 2050, and 10 degrees by 2100. In addition to all that, the increasingly erratic spring temperatures are having a serious impact on the maple sugar industry throughout New England and New York.
Rising temperatures are also correlated with increased health problems, particularly surrounding respiratory disorders. A number of chemicals form more easily in hot air, and as a result, increasing heat waves have come with lung damage and worsened asthma. Beyond the direct impact, the northward spread of wildlife ranges means that diseases are moving north as well.
Those who deny the existence of man-made climate change, or resist taking action on it, often do so on the basis of economics – the decades-old concept that doing anything about environmental problems will ruin the economy. There has never been any real evidence for this.
Tourism, agriculture, and fishing all depend directly on the climate. Transportation, power bills, public health, and even power generation also depend on the climate.
Because many of the changes to the New England region have been fairly minor, until recent years, parsing out the influence of climate change from other factors is very difficult, especially at the local level. When you take a step back and look at the industries that drive this region, however, it becomes clear that there is an impact, and as the warming continues, and worsens, so will economic disruption.