Climate Change is Already Costing New Hampshire (LOTS of) Money
Posted July 31, 2013
I may not be a skier, snowboarder, or frequent consumer of New Hampshire's delicious maple syrup, but I do know how important they all are to the financial wellbeing of my native Granite State that's "first in the nation” in fall foliage as well as presidential primaries.
I also count myself among those who consider climate change a real – and alarming-- threat to the cultural fixtures and breathtaking scenery vital to NH’s economy. Because New Hampshire (fiercely) prides itself on having no state sales or income taxes, tourism is a major economic driver as the state’s second-largest industry. In Fiscal Year 2012 alone, a whopping 34.2 million visitor trips pumped $4.3 BILLION into NH’s economy.
But a variety of studies and reports show climate change is affecting New Hampshire and endangering many of the things that attract visitors to our relatively small New England state (at only 9,304 square miles), like our foliage, maple sugar industry, winter (and summer) sports, and four distinct seasons.
That's why it's so important that New Hampshire and the nation support steps to curb the carbon dioxide pollution that's causing climate change before it it does any further harm to the state -- and the health and livelihoods of Granite Staters.
NH’s weather is changing
When I relocated to Washington, D.C., to join NRDC in January, New Hampshire’s weather was not one of the things I regretted leaving behind. Just last year, New Hampshire broke:
- 17 heat records (unpleasant in a state where central air conditioning is rare);
- 12 snow records; and
- 11 records for precipitation.
Global warming primarily caused by carbon pollution also is generating historic storms. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared New Hampshire a disaster or emergency zone 16 times since 2000 due to severe storms and flooding, including Hurricanes Sandy and Irene.
Meanwhile, average temperatures are rising, which isn’t good for foliage, maple syrup, or people. Warming ocean waters contribute to the spread of shellfish disease, algal blooms, and invasive species. And rising seas put beaches and oceanfront infrastructure at risk, along with threatening NH’s coastal tourism that generates an estimated $484 million annually.
NH can’t afford to lose snow
As one whose favorite winter sport is drinking cocoa in front of a fireplace, I’ve never been a huge fan of the 65 to 75 inches of snow that usually falls on New Hampshire each year – but it’s critical to the state's economy, crops, and health. The average snow cover season has decreased by more than 15 days compared with 30 years ago and rising temperatures caused by climate change could lead to a 30 to 50 percent shorter snow season by 2050.
According to NRDC’s Winter Tourism report, lower-snowfall winters (2001-2002 and 2006-2007) have already cost New Hampshire ski resorts about $54.3 million in lost revenue and 658 jobs. Between November 1999 and April 2010, the skiing industry’s economic value decreased by $41.1 million. Unfortunately, these figures will only worsen as climate change progresses.
Affecting foliage, fishing, farming, and our health, too
Climate change also means earlier snowpack melt and peak flows, which leads to increased summertime drought and declining fall water flow levels. These affect key economy sectors like fall foliage, sugar maples, and coastal watersheds.
For example, the northern hardwood trees that generate brilliant hues in the fall may migrate hundreds of miles north seeking colder winters, and summer droughts may cause trees to shed leaves early. Given that visitors seeking views of NH’s picturesque foliage bring in about $292 million annually – and typically spend 16 percent more than non-foliage visitors – that could create a huge economic problem.
Climate change also threatens NH’s agriculture, livestock, timber, and fishing industries. And warmer temperatures will only worsen air quality and lead to higher rates of heat-related illnesses. Right now, every NH county has ragweed pollution and asthma is sickening over 23,000 New Hampshire kids and 113,000 adults. In addition, New Hampshire’s poor air quality also currently results in over 100 premature deaths and costs the state $1 billion annually.
What’s the answer?
Like other states, NH faces substantial challenges in dealing with the damaging effects of too much carbon pollution in the atmosphere. But NRDC has a plan to help and our latest analysis shows it would create 1,100 jobs in New Hampshire by 2016 and 1,300 jobs by 2020. Further, NH residents’ monthly utility bills would decrease by $1.20 by 2016 and $3.61 by 2020.
Benefits like that should give us even more proof that fighting against climate change and for New Hampshire’s economy, natural beauty, and the health and wellfare of its residents is a battle well worth waging.
Thanks to Kerry Nix for her research work providing some of the statistics and facts for this blog.
(Foliage photo by Bluepointcom, under Creative Commons licensing, and ski area photo by Attitashmountain, under Creative Commons licensing) )