About Climate Change
Climate change is a change in the average weather conditions of a particular location. In Vermont, warming trends and changes in rainfall patterns over the past 50 years are evidence of climate change.
Climate change is constantly occurring as part of a natural process. Continental drift, ocean currents, volcanoes, solar cycles, and variations in the earth’s orbit and tilt are all natural causes of climate change. These natural processes affect the climate gradually over long periods of time.
Human activities also contribute to climate change. When fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas are used to generate electricity, heat homes and run cars, heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane are produced and get mixed into the atmosphere. These gases act like a blanket, warming the earth by trapping heat as it radiates away from the surface. Deforestation and land clearing also result in carbon dioxide emissions, while farming activities and landfills can be sources of methane emissions.
The size and scope of these and other human activities are causing the climate to change far more quickly than natural causes alone.
- More frequent extreme heat events due to warming trends
- More extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, floods, ice storms and droughts due to greater variability in precipitation
- More diseases carried by ticks, mosquitoes and rodents due to increasing populations as their geographic ranges expand
- Changes in water quality and quantity due to warming water temperatures, flooding and runoff, or drought
- More allergens and irritants from pollen due to longer growing seasons, dust from droughts, or mold and mold spores from wetter and warmer weather
- Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heart attacks, strokes and deaths due to extreme heat events
- Injuries, drowning, waterborne infectious diseases from heavy rains and floods
- Smoke-related respiratory illness from wildfires caused by drought conditions
- Lyme disease, West Nile virus and Hanta virus from ticks, mosquitoes and rodents
- Gastrointestinal diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa in contaminated water
- Asthma attacks from greater amounts of pollen, dust, and mold spores and also from rodent urine, fecal and saliva-related asthma triggers
As a state, Vermont has set challenging goals to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases from the 1990 baseline levels:
- 25 percent by 2012
- 50 percent by 2028
- 75 percent by 2050 (if possible using reasonable efforts)
You can find more details at: http://www.anr.state.vt.us/anr/climatechange/Index.html
In May 2011, Governor Shumlin established the Climate Cabinet, comprised of senior officials from many agencies and departments of state government. The Climate Cabinet is working to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases, identify climate-related threats, develop solutions and take actions to lessen the impacts of climate change.
The Governor’s Climate Cabinet is leading the development of adaptation plans to protect Vermonters and the state’s most vulnerable natural resources, geographic areas and economic sectors from the effects of climate change. As part of this effort, the Health Department will identify the populations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and will develop public health adaptation strategies to reduce the health consequences.
You can do your part to help slow the process of climate change.
- Replace lightbulbs with CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) or LEDs (light-emitting diodes).
- Set thermostat limits to 65º F in winter, 75º F in summer.
- Compost your food waste.
- Walk or bike to work.
- Use mass transit.
- When you are using a car:
- Keep tires properly inflated.
- Keep engine tuned.
- Avoid unnecessary idling.
- Eco-drive: gradually start and stop, upshift sooner and drive the speed limit or lower. Aerodynamic drag increases 25 times for every 5 mph speed increase.
- See additional actions you can take and resources to help you
The available data related to climate change focus on heat stress and heat-related deaths.
Nationwide, extreme heat events, or heat waves, are the most common cause of weather-related deaths. They cause more deaths each year than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.
Vermont has not yet experienced the number of prolonged extreme heat events that many other states have. As climate change continues, heat stress will become a more significant risk in the lives of Vermont residents. People who are most at risk for heat stress are adults over 65, children under 4, people with existing medical problems such as heart disease, and people without access to air conditioning.
Heat Stress Data presented in Vermont Tracking are annual data for the months of May through September to focus on heat events from weather-related causes. The data are organized in three categories:
- Hospitalizations for Heat Stress
- Emergency Department Visits for Heat Stress
- Deaths from Heat-related Events