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As N.H.’s climate changes, a new report shows dire consequences of inaction

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Annie Ropeik
/
NHPR
People living in areas prone to flooding – on the Seacoast or near rivers and streams – are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

As winters warm, coastal communities plan for flooding, new pests arrive, and longstanding New Hampshire traditions begin to vanish, a report released Monday warns about the dire consequences of further inaction to slow climate change.

The report, one part of the sixth climate assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), shows human-induced climate change has caused widespread damage to human and ecological systems. Some of the changes are irreversible, though there is still a chance to change the magnitude of future effects.

The new report confirms much of what scientists already know, said Mary Stampone, a UNH professor and New Hampshire’s state climatologist: Climate change is having a devastating impact – ecologically, economically, and on human health.

“We know that the warming of winters here is going to negatively impact the winter recreation industry over time…We know that a lot of our ecosystems, which have adapted to these really cold winters, are going to change as winters warm and the ecosystems we have now aren't able to adapt to the new invasive species that are going to be coming in,” she said.

The report detailed the way climate change impacts people differently, and how existing inequities change the way people experience those impacts. We see that in New Hampshire, too, Stampone said.

“Some of the rural communities are reliant on these climate and weather-related industries that are at the greatest risk due to climate change,” she said.

People living in areas prone to flooding – on the Seacoast or near rivers and streams – are more vulnerable. And as New Hampshire summers heat up, there’s also concern about disparities in access to cooling, Stampone said.

One of the big takeaways from the latest IPCC report for Stampone is the increasing ability scientists have to attribute extreme events and their impacts directly to climate change. Drought-related tree deaths and warm-water coral deaths are two climate impacts that have been attributed to human-induced climate change with high confidence since the 5th IPCC report, released in 2014.

Monday’s report shows devastating impacts of climate change – from economic damage to premature death – will get worse in the future. A massive effort to mitigate climate change and plan for adaptation can help change the severity of those impacts.

Cameron Wake, a professor and climate scientist at the University of New Hampshire, said the report’s detailed description of the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and human social systems reinforces an urgent need to take action.

“We need a massive effort across every sector of society, at every spatial level that works to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “And that leadership is lacking in New Hampshire. We need to do more and we need to do better.”

Action at every level, from national and state governments, to businesses, to individual families, is important, Wake said.

The IPCC report shows polarization and public misperceptions of climate change in the United States have led to a delay in planning for adaptation.

New Hampshire’s plan to take action on climate change, which Wake helped create, is now 13 years old. Wake said many of the recommendations in that plan, from a bipartisan stakeholder group, have been ignored.

Though the report paints a picture of an entire world in interconnected crisis, Wake said Granite Staters can take action on climate close to home.

“This is a call to action for everybody. We no longer have the luxury of pointing to somebody else and saying they need to solve this. We need to solve this, all of us,” Wake said.

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