“Although global in scale, the impact of climate change will be felt, and its effects will need to be fought, at the local level.” That simple truth – that the climate is changing, that we’ll feel it, and fight it, here in the Adirondacks – is taken from the flap of the new book Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability by Jerry Jenkins (who is giving a talk on the book this Friday at 7 PM at the Northwoods Inn in Lake Placid).
The book is an extensive gathering of data on local climate change problems, and as importantly, what Jenkins calls “An Adirondack Strategy” that includes suggestions for moving from fossil fuels (coal and oil) to renewable energy (sun and wind). What makes this book so valuable is that Jenkins has crafted a readable and useful reference developed with local Adirondack conditions in mind: our excessive automobile and home energy use; the increasing loss of ice and snow cover and winter recreation businesses and facilities; the northern movement of the boreal forest and invasive species from the south; the loss of northern climate cultural traditions. “These losses will be extensive,” Jenkins writes.
Much of what in included in Climate Change in the Adirondacks does apply everywhere. Big appliances, large homes, gas-guzzling transportation use a lot of energy and cost our pocketbooks dearly. But achieving energy independence in the Adirondacks has it’s own unique challenges. Jenkins argues that moving from combustion engines to “an electrical society” based on wind, biomass, and geothermal could happen in 20 years with an investment of about $3.5 billion.
“The most direct benefit will be the money saved on fuel,” Jenkins writes. “Every watt of fossil fuel power we use costs about $0.70 per year. If we replace 500 megawatts of fossil fuels with renewables, that is a savings of $350 million a year, enough to repay the $3.5 billion cost in 10 years. Further, since the prices of fossil fuels are growing at an average rate of around 10% per year, the increase in savings over time could be more than enough to cover a 7% per year finance charge.”
Climate Change in the Adirondacks is a much anticipated follow-up to The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park (2004), and is laid out on the same model. Like the Adirondack Atlas, hundreds of color maps, charts, and graphs and photographs are included. Jenkins brings to bear his expertise as an ecologist and author with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program and decades of research experience in the field. His previous work has focused on botanical and ecological inventories, research on sugar maple regeneration and acid rain, and a focus on the ecological value of conservation easements.
The effects of climate change in the Adirondacks are already clearly being seen today. Winters are warmer and shorter, with less snow and ice; spring is coming earlier, fall later. Longer term trends are also starting to occur: birds are moving north, plants are flowering early, evergreen trees are retreating upwards in the mountains, some boreal species are in decline. Some of the most dramatic changes are apt to involve the region’s winter sports economy.
Seasonal temperature trends, years when Lake Champlain was closed between Burlington and Plattsburgh, ice-in and ice-out dates, precipitation, snow cover and changes in snowfall all point to an Adirondack future with less snow and less winter sports. The data presented leads to questions about the long term stability of some winter communities and especially large slope-side development projects like North Creek’s Ski Bowl Village and Tupper Lake’s Adirondack Club and Resort.
Since I first asked about the status of climate change in the Adirondack Park in 2006, much new information has been published and a number of Almanack contributors have chimed on local climate change impacts. Here is a sampling of stories:
Mary Thill on Birding and Climate Change
Larry Master on Climate Change in the Champlain Basin
Ellen Rathbone on The Impact of Climate Change on Nature’s Cycles
Anthony Hall on Using Carbon Credit to Monetize the Forest Preserve