Climate resilience in New England: How does New Hampshire stack up?
We know we have only a few years left to head off the most severe consequences of carbon pollution. (Scott Olson | Getty Images)
OK, the weather on our continent in recent weeks has been weird. Snow falling in Los Angeles, minus-9 degrees in Montana, and a high of 95 in Texas. Yet taking the long view, this is unsurprising. We are now inescapably committed to some amount of change in the global climate. How severe the changes are will be determined by our collective actions over the next few years. But we know we have lots of extra CO2 molecules currently zipping around in the atmosphere, and they will stay up there for a long, long time – absorbing and retaining heat energy.
Dealing with the changes stemming from all this extra heat energy is expected to cost the United States at least $2 trillion annually by end of century. Common sense says we should minimize the changes we can control and adapt to those we can’t.
With the Inflation Reduction Act, the federal government offers new funding to support a transition to clean energy, but state governments will be key in accessing federal programs, mitigating future climate impacts, and adapting to changes already underway. In New England, these include “summer drought conditions interrupted by intense precipitation events, invasive pests killing ash and hemlock, sunny day flooding in coastal towns, increased public health burdens due to high heat days.”
So, how do the six New England states stack up in drafting policy and implementing action? How prepared are we? The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently released a report examining these states’ plans and track records to date. It turns out New England as a whole is making better progress than many of the 50 states. Unfortunately, New Hampshire lags far behind.
The UCS study was authored by Jo Field and Miriam Israel, fellows at the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute. Their work was supported by Roger Stephenson, UCS Northeast regional advocacy director. (A recorded presentation can be accessed at www.newhampshirenetwork.org/events.)
The researchers defined 15 indicator categories for assessing state policies. The resilience gap measures how prepared (or unprepared) people and communities are for climate-driven pressures. The UCS-UNH fellows analyzed each of the six states’ climate policy statements and legislation to understand agency goals and mandates. Then, they interviewed government officials and environmental leaders to assess actions being implemented. Their study helps us weigh the costs of action against the costs of inaction.
Results show that five New England states are taking steps to adapt to changes already occurring, as well as attempting to mitigate future change by reducing their reliance on fossil fuels. New Hampshire, however, shows little ambition to adapt proactively to climate challenges or to slow the pace of future deterioration.
Significantly, New Hampshire is the only New England state without a current “climate action plan,” or CAP. New Hampshire does have a CAP, but it was written in 2009 and its recommendations were never implemented. Today, the Granite State remains the only New England state not to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, and to have no formal mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Last year, the newly created state Department of Energy released a 10-Year Energy Strategy. Field and Israel see little scientific evidence informing this strategy. Instead, it continues the state’s myopic practice of focusing on the short-term economic costs of action while ignoring the costs of inaction – thus failing to articulate a longer-term vision based on common-sense risk management.
The strategy considers coastal impacts (sea level rise), but other resilience needs go unaddressed. What surprised the UCS researchers was the apparent acceptance of the status quo among administration officials, who cited as their rationale “the New Hampshire difference.” The researchers saw little inclination toward a course correction despite mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary.
This is very disturbing to New Hampshire residents. We know we have only a few years left to head off the most severe consequences of carbon pollution, yet our state administrators prevaricate. This session, three significant pieces of legislation are under consideration at the State House:
- House Bill 208 focuses on establishing a climate action plan and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals for the state.
- House Bill 372 establishes a commission to study how New Hampshire can best prepare for federal carbon cash-back legislation — which will arrive sooner or later.
- House Concurrent Resolution 5 begins holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for decades of disinformation about the consequences of carbon pollution.
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