"VT Gov. Shumlin on “Our Continuing Irrational Exuberance About Burning Fossil Fuels, in Light of These Storm Patterns”"
Vermont Governor: “We’ve got to get off fossil fuels as quickly as we know how, to make this planet livable for our children and our grandchildren.”
Below the jump is a guest post, “Surviving My Own Predictions: A Vermont Climate Scientist Faces Hurricane Irene.”
A house in Sharon, Vermont, that started out the week on the other side of this underpass, via Masters.
The storm of the century — at least for large parts of New England — is over. But Irene’s 1-in-100 year deluge leaves devastation in its wake. Meteorologist and former hurricane Hunter Dr. Jeff Masters summed it up this way yesterday:
Record flooding continues in the Northeast from Irene’s torrential rains. Hardest hit was Vermont, where heavy rains in the weeks prior to Irene’s arrival had left soils in the top 20% for moisture, historically. Irene dumped 5 – 8 inches of rain over large sections of Vermont, with a peak of 11.23″ at Mendo. The reading from Mendo was the greatest single-day rainfall in Vermont’s history…. beating the 9.92″ that fell at Mt. Mansfield on 9/17/1999 during the passage of Tropical Storm Floyd.
Governor Peter Shumlin (D-VT) spoke Tuesday about the danger human-caused climate change poses to his state and others:
I find it extraordinary that so many political leaders won’t actually talk about the relationship between climate change, fossil fuels, our continuing irrational exuberance about burning fossil fuels, in light of these storm patterns that we’ve been experiencing.
We had storms this spring that flooded our downtowns and put us through many of the same exercises that we’re going through right now. We didn’t used to get weather patterns like this in Vermont….
We in the colder states are going to see the results of climate change first… Myself, Premier [Jean] Charest up in Quebec, Governor [Andrew] Cuomo over in New York, we understand that the flooding and the extraordinary weather patterns that we’re seeing are a result of our burnings of fossil fuel. We’ve got to get off fossil fuels as quickly as we know how, to make this planet livable for our children and our grandchildren.
What follows is a guest post by Dr. Elizabeth R. Sawin of Hartland, Vermont. Sawin is Co-Director of Climate Interactive, a non-profit organization that creates computer simulations of climate and energy policy in the U.S. and around the world – ClimateInteractive.org.
Surviving My Own Predictions: A Vermont Climate Scientist Faces Hurricane Irene
By Dr. Elizabeth R. Sawin
31 August 2011
My daughter, Jenna, will miss her first day of high school on Wednesday. Woodstock, Vermont, where her school lies, is essentially shut down by flooding. The covered bridge in Quechee I drove across just last week is ruined, and the store where I bought hurricane provisions is just now emerging from flood waters. Across the state, 13 towns are stranded, 250 roads are impassable and more than 30 bridges are closed.
Okay, Irene was no Katrina. My family is fine. But, as a builder of climate simulations that connect burning fossil fuels to destruction like Irene’s, my ‘day job’ in the ‘real world’ and my home-life in a beautiful corner of Vermont finally collided.
What now, Vermont? What now, World?
Around Vermont today, people are still tallying up the damage, getting water to the thirsty, offering shelter to the newly homeless, and clearing debris from all over. Those spared personal loss are pitching in where we can, volunteering our time, and donating provisions.
Attending to these immediate needs is critical, and a measure of our worth as neighbors, but responding to Hurricane Irene won’t be over soon. We face a long and expensive recovery, and, with budgets already tight, our communities face tough decisions.
How to make good decisions, under pressure of time and in the face of loss, suffering and immediate need? There is no perfect formula, of course, but from my community of systems scientists and modelers a few key messages emerge:
Re-build with a transition to clean energy in mind. If a section of power line needs to be rebuilt, prepare for the smart-grid that can transmit clean energy from wind and solar. If a bridge needs to be replaced, rebuild it with a bicycle lane. If new cable needs to be laid, make sure that it equips remote homes and businesses for the interconnectivity of the digital age.
Irene didn’t hit us at a time of business as usual. It arrived at the start of a massive global transition towards an efficient, low-carbon, smart economy. If we can hold onto to the vision of that clean energy future then the necessary work of rebuilding could propel Vermont forward to help lead that transition.
Rebuild with future disruption in mind. Like it or not, Vermont is caught up in the same global changes that are contributing to droughts in Africa and the American Southwest, the same forces that spawned last year’s forest fires in Russia and flooding in Pakistan. With more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Vermont, like the rest of the planet, will see more extreme weather, including more intense precipitation. We should rebuild our infrastructure with this in mind, knowing that the same streams and rivers that caused such disruption a few days ago likely will not be as quiet for the next hundred years as they have been for the last hundred.
Keep the decision making process open. The best decisions for the long-term will solicit the highest levels of democratic participation possible. Vermont’s long tradition of Town Meeting will serve us well in this regard. The voices of the least powerful among us may have the most wisdom when it comes to getting by on less, fixing what is broken, and taking care of one another.
Make the links, from dirty energy to devastated communities. Those people most affected by the current crisis have directly experienced some of what the future may hold for more and more of us if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise. Though climate scientists will say, correctly, that no single event is the result of climate change, we also know that ‘1- in 100-year’ events are becoming more common. By sharing our experiences and linking them to the wider systemic driver – fossil fuel emissions – we can help explain the true costs of fossil energy (including paying for the costs of climate-change-related disaster relief) and help ensure that even worse disruption doesn’t plague future generations.
So, what now Vermont?
We’ll pick up the pieces, that’s for sure.
But we have the chance to go further than that. We can connect the dots between events we just lived through and global rise in greenhouse gases concentrations, and we can work together with others around the world to help phase out the pollution that makes future Irenes ever more likely. And, as we rebuild, we can make Vermont a stronger, smarter place, powered by clean energy and ready for the extremes our already destabilized climate will likely send our way.
– Dr. Elizabeth Sawin. Sawin lives with her husband and two daughters at Cobb Hill Co-housing in Hartland, Vermont. She can be contacted at email@example.com.