Climate Stability

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(HOST) Commentator Brendan Fisher says that, although the United States declined to participate in the Kyoto Treaty, regional American efforts may contribute substantially to climate stability after all.

(FISHER) On February 16th the Kyoto Protocol went into effect. This treaty was over seven years in the making. It brings together most of the countries in the world to address a common problem: the need to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The United States is not a signatory to the treaty, despite being the world’s largest polluter. Nonetheless, it appears that many Americans have decided to take matters into their own hands with regional and local initiatives, and these efforts are adding up.

Those of us who have been following the climate change issue know that all six of New England’s governors signed a pledge to “meet or beat” Kyoto’s reduction goals. They were joined by five Provincial Premieres of Canada, and recently the governor of New York. In 2003, 155 mayors signed a “Statement on Global Warning” pledging to seek serious reductions in their cities’ emissions. And last November, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington met to discuss their climate protection strategies. They will meet this year to set specific targets.

I knew there was some backing here in the U. S., but what surprised me was how much support there really is. In fact, 14 of the country’s 20 largest cities have instituted emissions reduction strategies. They are joined by more than 130 other cities and towns, many with plans far more progressive than Kyoto.

Here’s an interesting exercise. If we add the economies of just 32 of the U. S. cities that have climate programs to the economies of the New England states, then, economically speaking, 40 percent of the U. S. is backing some type of climate change protocol. If the west coast governors follow suit this year, that number would jump to 46 percent. And this is a low estimate. There are many more cities, counties and corporations with climate programs. Examples here in Vermont include Burlington, Brattleboro, Middlebury, Charlotte, Williston and Underhill.

One organization working on regional climate change initiatives is the Vermont based 10% Challenge. To date they have received pledges from over 75 businesses and towns aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent. They’ve also enlisted over 1,000 homes both in and outside Vermont.

The effects of long-term climate change on Vermont are still uncertain, but if the current estimate of a six-degree increase in mean temperature over the next 100 years is correct, changes are likely to be drastic. Fifty years from now Vermont may not be the maple-syrup and ski haven it is today. We may become the home of hot summers and dry winters. Then again, with growing local and regional climate change initiatives, we may be on the verge of joining the rest of the world in a large-scale movement for climate stability.

This is Brendan Fisher of Burlington.

Brendan Fisher is a PhD student in ecological economics at the University of Vermont.

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