Op/Ed

Climate Matters: Our young people’s future, our forests, our changing climate

HOWARD JENNINGS OF Bristol is working to reverse human-caused climate change to protect the world that his 2-year-old grandson, Arlo, grows up in.

Editor’s note: This column is meant to scare us all into taking action, and it offers the biggest single thing we might ever do — by March 13 — to stop climate change.

I have examined the findings of the 2022 report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other authoritative research, and what I have found is downright terrifying for our young people’s future. 

I have a big personal stake in this; my grandson Arlo, who just turned two, will be tremendously impacted by the climate catastrophe by the time he is a teenager. I’m in this fight for him. One of the highest-impact and lowest-cost actions we can take for the benefit of Arlo’s generation is to protect public lands like Vermont’s commonly owned backyard: the Green Mountain National Forest.

CLIMATE CHANGE HERE NOW

Scientists have been warning us for decades about global warming, but it seemed too far off to take as seriously as we should have. They told us if the global average temperature climbs 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit or even 2.7 degrees above the preindustrial normal temperature it would have catastrophic impacts and might be irreversible. Well, we are now at 2 degrees, and we are already seeing climate disasters happening all around the globe nearly every day. 

In the U.S. alone, hundreds of people are dying of heat waves, wildfires and unusual floods or ice storms virtually every year, (770 people in 2021). Thousands of people are flooded or burned out of their homes (15% of homes in U.S. destroyed or impacted in 2021). Many are put out of work for long periods. Many regions in the western U.S. are facing prolonged drought conditions that will soon force abandonment of entire communities. 

In addition to the human suffering, the U.S. suffers billions of dollars in damages each year from these combined disasters ($165 billion in 2022). This is a huge and growing drag on our economy that we feel, or will feel, everywhere, even if we are not in the immediate path of a disaster. Globally, millions of people face starvation and forced migration away from untenable living conditions. The immigration issues caused by millions of refugees are severe and growing. We haven’t seen anything yet.

Vermont is hardly immune. We’re experiencing milder winters, but also erratic cold; increasing frequency of floods; ski areas struggling; pests moving northward from the south; and droughts and temperature changes threatening crops and forests. Things are getting worse, and Vermont will not escape climate chaos. Carbon emissions caused in Vermont affect everyone nationally and globally, and we cannot ignore our common good and common plight.

10 Years Left?

• The scientists of the IPCC tell us that we will likely reach 2.7 degrees between 2030 and 2050, depending upon what actions we take worldwide. At 2.7 degrees warming its effects may be irreversible. 

• Given the huge consequences for our children, it would be reckless not to do everything we possibly can to turn this around by 2030, only seven years away. 

• There is no technological silver bullet coming to save us. Even things that show promise will take many years or decades to deploy at a large enough scale. We must lower our emissions and stop destroying the natural world that is a huge part of the solution. Now.

The 2022 IPCC Report states: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.” 

Crop failures and famine will be widespread, and global food prices will be volatile. Global recession is likely to be endemic. Wealthy countries like the U.S. will be better off than many, but we cannot insulate ourselves from this worldwide disaster. 

But it’s not hopeless 

• The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 includes the biggest investment in climate solutions in U.S. history and builds on major electric vehicle infrastructure funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 0f 2022. Those and related actions by state and local governments are projected to reduce U.S. emissions in 2030 by 50% from 2005. This is huge! 

• There are thousands of things being done by businesses, nonprofits, communities and governments around the world to slow the destruction of the natural carbon-storing functions of forests and oceans, and to increase carbon sequestration. 

One huge thing we can do right now — stop logging the Green Mountain National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service has just released a proposal to log 11,800 acres in the Telephone Gap area of the Green Mountain National Forest in the vicinity of Chittenden. That is an area larger than the city of Burlington. A high percentage of the stands proposed for cutting are 80 to 160 years old or more — the workhorses of carbon sequestration. This logging is unnecessary and unjustifiable economically or environmentally. Vermont’s private forests can supply all of the timber we need while logging younger trees. Worse yet, our tax dollars should not subsidize logging that hastens climate change. And it violates the intent of President Biden’s 2022 executive order to preserve mature forests. This is not just a Vermont issue; it is a national and global issue. This logging on public lands cannot be allowed to happen. 

The Forest Service proposal is based on an out-of-date Forest Plan, using old research and policies. There is a large and growing body of more recent research showing that old trees sequester by far the most carbon, with the largest 1% of trees in the U.S. sequestering a huge 30% of the carbon. A recent study (Erb et al.) shows that forests have the capacity to take up and store an amazing half or more of the world’s climate-changing carbon emissions. 

There is pushback nationwide against cutting such old forests, and the Forest Service recently cancelled a large-sale cutting in Oregon because of public opposition. You can help make that happen here. This is a national forest, and anyone in the U.S. is free to comment.

Please comment on the Forest Service proposal to log Telephone Gap by going to this link and filling in the simple form. cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public//CommentInput?Project=60192

Or use this QR code to go to the Comment Form

You must submit your comment before midnight Monday, March 13. 

Life on Earth is not a video game we can reset and play again. Climate change will be the end of human habitation on many parts of our planet — soon — unless we take dramatic action to stop it now. We CAN and must do this. Vermonters have our first big shot by March 13. Let’s do it!

A future column will offer more information on the Telephone Gap project and the critical role forests play in mitigating global warming, slowing the looming biodiversity and extinction crises, and protecting water quality.

—————

Howard Jennings, a Bristol resident, is the former research director of Mobility Lab, a transportation think tank in Virginia. He is now working with Save Public Forests, a collective effort of scientists, researchers, ecologists and individuals from many organizations, united in researching and promoting realistic modern-day solutions to climate change, forest degradation and the biodiversity crisis. 

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