Climate Matters: Planting helps the climate
The average first frost in Addison County typically comes in early October, but the current 10-day forecast for our area suggests our first frost will be delayed. This means everyone reading this column still has time to do one small thing to help address climate change, and that’s because when you plant a tree, a hedgerow, a perennial berry bush or native wildflowers, you help pull carbon pollution out of the atmosphere and into the land. It is the perfect time to reimagine your lawn and set aside a small part for a tree or natural grasses. Will you reverse climate disruption? Obviously not. Can it help? Maybe. Is it worth trying? Definitely, because when you plant perennial plants, you help sequester carbon, create habitat for wildlife, clean the air, help hold water in the land through healthy plant root systems, and join a sweeping movement that is advancing ecological restoration worldwide.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, protection and restoration of our forests, soils, wetlands and natural places can help remove at least five gigatons of carbon pollution from the atmosphere on an annual basis. That’s hardly insignificant! The UN General Assembly declared 2021–2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, urging civil society, governments and the private sector to prioritize nature-based solutions to restore vital ecosystems around the globe and combat climate change. We can do our small part right here in Addison County, and the next 10 days of comparatively warm weather are perfect for taking action.
Walk your yard or land. Or speak to a local business owner, school principal, or town librarian. Do they have a desire and need for some plantings? What native tree(s) might you plant that will bring shade and heat management in coming decades while sequestering carbon in the meantime? Consider an oak — one of Vermont’s fastest growing, low-maintenance trees. The Vermont Urban & Community Forest Program offers an excellent guide for selecting and planting trees. Or go a bit smaller. What chokeberry, winterberry, serviceberry or elderberry bushes might you plant as a hedge against the rising winds, food for birds, and as perennial engines of carbon drawdown? XERCES offers an excellent guide to selecting native plants.
Do you have room for a miniscule tiny forest? We have an abundance of local experts to help, from the Middlebury Area Land Trust, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Vermont Coverts, Vermont Land Trust, and Audubon Vermont to your local plant nurseries specializing in healthy native trees and perennial plants. Rocky Dale Gardens and Plant Nursery in Bristol, Golden Russet in Shoreham, Full Circle Gardens in Essex, Miller Hill Farm in Sudbury, Bird & Bee Native Plants in Jericho and several others specialize in native species that are free of deadly noenicitinoids and pesticides that can kill pollinators.
Addison County residents confronted climate disruption in deeply personal ways this year as a freak freeze destroyed orchards and vineyards, wildfire smoke from Canada pushed summer camps inside, cyanobacteria blooms linked to warmer water temperatures closed beaches along Lake Champlain, and floods damaged homes, farms and businesses. Mosquitoes, associated with heat and increased rain drove us bonkers. Middlebury received up to six inches of rain in a few hours, leading to road closures, rescue missions and mudslides. Even now, with a period of sunshine behind us, farmers are still struggling to harvest corn and hay for their animals. According to a neighboring dairy farmer, this summer has been a nightmare with farm equipment getting mired in mud. Damage from the Vermont floods of July 2023 rivaled — and in some areas exceeded — Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
According to a September 2023 UN report, extreme weather like we just experienced here in Vermont is likely to accelerate rapidly rather than gradually as our planet heats up from the release of greenhouse gases. Every tiny bit of warming we can avoid matters. Supporting perennial trees, shrubs, and wildflowers is one step each of us can take. (Wildflower plantings will do best after the first one or two light frosts.) We can also work with others to go beyond our individual actions. Let’s press for statewide policies that incentivize farmers to adopt regenerative agricultural practices to rebuild healthy soils that draw carbon out of the air and deep into our fields. Let’s urge our town planning commissions to do more to encourage protection of heritage trees since old trees sequester more carbon than young ones. We can establish public/private partnerships from Orwell to Starksboro to build pollinator pathways and gardens.
Addressing the climate emergency can feel hopeless, but maybe it’s not. And though we know we are in a time of extreme impermanence and we feel our mortality, we might find solace in doing something in the next ten days to bring beauty, shade, habitat and a little cooling to beautiful Addison County.
Betsy Taylor is President of Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions, a consulting firm in New Haven that focuses on climate solutions.
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