Over the last decade and a half, the U.S. has published three national climate assessment reports, each detailing in broad strokes how global warming will affect the nation. But by publishing the first state-level climate assessment last week, researchers in Vermont have now taken a much closer look at how 100 years of ongoing climate change will affect people within the state's own borders.
To put the report together, lead author Gillian Galford, an Earth systems scientist at the University of Vermont, recruited seven graduate students to interview dozens of officials, scientists, and local farmers. Her team's findings describe how rising temperatures, longer growing seasons, and increased risk of flooding will impact the state’s 630,000 residents.
But unlike the national assessment, the Vermont researchers relied on citizen scientists for more detailed reporting. They interviewed an apple tree farmer who kept close records of his growing seasons and analyzed climate data from an annual competition that guesses the day the state’s famous Joe’s Pond melts in the spring thaw.
"I hope that by publishing this report, it will encourage more people to look back at journals they keep on their farms, and when their backyard maple trees are flowering, and think, ‘Oh, maybe I can contact Gillian,’ and this can be part of our report," Galford says.
According to the Vermont assessment, some of the biggest impacts of climate change will be felt by farmers and the state’s low-income population. Longer growing seasons could prove a boon for fruit and vegetable farmers, but higher temperatures could also mean cows that produce less milk. In hot weather, cows pant instead of chew cud, and less eating means less milk, Galford explains. Increased precipitation also promises mixed dairy results. While wet weather could benefit crops, increased flooding could destroy thousands of mobile homes located in flood plains.
Galford hopes that this kind of regional reporting will inspire more states to develop their own climate assessment plans. "My hope would be that we can build a network of states who want to work in this capacity," she says. "[We should] also be thinking about how we can use high school students and teachers to collect really local information on climate change and contribute to a state understanding on climate change. It’s also an educational model."