Study IDs county’s carbon footprint

We see the effect and increasing dangers of climate change in Vermont in various ways, including more extreme weather and significant, harmful warming overall.
— Steve Maier, CEAC board president

ADDISON COUNTY — Farming accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions in Addison County than any other sector, according to a study released last week by the Climate Economy Action Center (CEAC) of Addison County.
The report estimates emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide released by Addison County in 2017, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available.
“This in-depth inventory draws on numerous data sources to provide a baseline estimate of local climate change emissions,” said CEAC board member Richard Hopkins in a Dec. 3 media release. “The analysis fills a gap in what was known about local emissions and creates a basis for measuring the effects of present and future efforts to reduce emissions.”
In 2017, agriculture accounted for 40.8% of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global climate change. The second largest contributor, transportation, accounted for 27.2%. Delivered fuels made up the third-largest contribution, with 21.1%.
Other significant contributors include natural gas (3.4%), electricity (3.2%) and wastewater treatment (2.4%), according to CEAC, a nonprofit that aims to boost the local economy while also addressing climate change.

In 2017, Addison County contained about 12% of the Vermont’s farmed land and about 25% of the state’s total population of cattle and calves, with 58,906, according to the report.
Emissions from county agriculture included enteric fermentation — methane released when cows and goats digest their food (60% of sector emissions) — soil practices (25%) and manure management (13%).
Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — 84 times more potent over 20 years. But since methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere, its potency is standardized by internationally accepted protocols over a longer period of time — 100 years — thus calculating it as just 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
“If we instead examined the relative impacts of methane and carbon dioxide over just 20 years … (methane’s) CO2-equivalent GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions would then be two to three times as high for … agriculture as those presented here,” the report notes.
Indeed, a higher-level recalculation of the report’s county emissions data shows that measured over a 20-year time period, agriculture would account for anywhere from 60% to 87% of all county GHG emissions.
Though CEAC feels it’s important to highlight such data, the group is in no way interested in “putting farmers out of business,” Hopkins told the Independent. In fact, CEAC is hoping to learn more about agriculture and to form partnerships with local farmers that will help keep one of the county’s most important sectors on the path toward sustainability.

Passenger vehicles accounted for 78% of all transportation emissions in Addison County in 2017, followed by freight and service trucks (18%) and off-road vehicles (3.2%), according to the report.
In 2017 there were 41,453 vehicles registered in Addison County — more than one per person — and an estimated 410.4 million miles were driven on its roads.
Since then, electric and hybrid vehicles have become more popular. Between 2017 and 2019 the number of new electric or hybrid vehicle registrations climbed from 132 to 234.
Hopkins said he believes we are near an inflection point for low-emissions vehicles, and that after they become easier and cheaper to buy and charge, their increased presence on county roads could go a long way toward reducing transportation emissions.

Buildings and industrial operations accounted for 29.1% of county emissions in 2017, and delivered fuels (fuel oil, propane and kerosene) contributed the most emissions in that sector (72%), according to the report. Other major contributors included natural gas (12%), electricity (11%) and wood burning (4.9%).
The report included two important notes about emissions related to natural gas (methane) consumption.
First, “following (internationally accepted standards), we do not count fugitive methane emissions from the extraction, processing and transport of natural gas, which could properly be counted where they occur, and in any case are of disputed magnitude.”
Second, “Addison County only began to be serviced by Vermont Gas, the local natural gas supplier, at the end of 2017.”
Hopkins predicted that future reports would show carbon dioxide emissions from burning natural gas accounting for a higher proportion of county greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, emissions from fuel oil used to heat homes may see a decrease as more people choose to replace it with natural gas or electric-powered cold climate heat pumps.

The CEAC climate inventory includes data for the county’s four largest communities, Bristol (population 3,892), Ferrisburgh (2,721), Middlebury (8,598) and Vergennes (2,558).
Bristol’s top emission sector was gasoline and diesel (44%).
Agriculture led other sectors in Ferrisburgh (46.1%).
In Middlebury, which is the most industrial town in Addison County, natural gas snuck in at number three, with 17.3% of total emissions, trailing gasoline and diesel (32%) and delivered fuels (24.9%).
Gasoline and diesel dominated Vergennes emissions with 46.6%.
Agriculture accounted for most of the rest of the county’s emissions (55.8%).
Addison County’s data turned out to be somewhat different from Vermont’s.
The proportion of greenhouse gas emissions produced by local agriculture was more than three times that produced statewide — 40.8% vs. 12.2%, according to the report.
At the same time, transportation here contributed a lower percentage of greenhouse gas emissions than it did statewide — 27.2% vs. 44.5%.

The inventory can be found online at It contains a substantial amount of original research, as well as information obtained from state and local agencies, utilities and nonprofit organizations.
Vermont reports overall state emissions data but does not break them down by town, city or county. The new study is the first of its kind researched and reported for Addison County alone.
Having that information is key to understanding how to think about — and pursue — solutions to the climate crisis.
“Only when emissions are tracked locally, using local data, can the community implement and monitor the success of targeted and informed programs to reduce these emissions,” CEAC officials said in their release.
CEAC intern and Middlebury College junior Acadia Hegedus conducted the primary work on the report, with guidance from Hopkins, a retired epidemiologist and climate data expert, and Steve Maier, who heads the CEAC board.
“This report provides valuable new information about local sources that contribute to climate change,” Maier said in the media release. “We see the effect and increasing dangers of climate change in Vermont in various ways, including more extreme weather and significant, harmful warming overall.”
But the inventory is not itself an action plan, Maier added, but merely a snapshot of county emissions data. “Looking ahead, CEAC hopes to work with all sectors of the county’s economy and community to create a climate plan that will help direct our community’s efforts to bring down our GHG emissions and grow a sustainable economy.”

CEAC and its partners, including Middlebury College, are hoping to convene a county-wide roundtable early in 2021 to discuss and coordinate ongoing local responses to the climate crisis.
Any plan to reduce emissions, local or otherwise, will have to focus on making changes to all of the contributing sectors, not just one or two, Hopkins said, though he’s hopeful that some sectors, like transportation and heating, will soon become easier to change, given the increase of electric cars and heat pumps.
Hopkins is also looking ahead to the next Addison County climate inventory, once the necessary data from 2019 becomes available. Ideally, CEAC would produce a new inventory every couple of years, he said.
Meanwhile, the global climate crisis continues to unfold.
“Time is fast running out for us to avert the worst impacts of climate disruption and protect our societies from the inevitable impacts to come,” said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guerres in March, after the UN release a climate report filled with dire warnings. 
“More severe and frequent floods, droughts and tropical storms, dangerous heatwaves and rising sea levels are already severely threatening lives and livelihoods across the planet.”
For more information about the CEAC, visit 

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