Tuesday, 22 May 2001

PORTSMOUTH, N.H.

Two years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d end up in New Hampshire. I had been running World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Change Campaign for six years in Washington, D.C., but I jumped at the chance to help start Clean Air-Cool Planet. It seems to me that the only way to get results on climate is to build a stronger public movement for change outside the beltway. To shift people from vague concern to real action, we need to bring climate change home to them and show how it affects the places they live and the things they care about.

Sometimes I just have to look out of my office window to be reminded of how global warming is going to change the fabric of life in New England. We have a second-floor downtown space looking straight out into the gardens of the historic Moffat-Ladd house. There’s a 200-year-old, horse chestnut tree outside, and in the winter, I can see through its branches to the Piscataqua River. Lobstermen ply the river, and I often wonder how their catches are affected by the ocean warming detected in the North Atlantic.

I’ve been keeping a list of all the birds I’ve seen from my window and was thrilled to return from a meeting late yesterday afternoon to spot a beautiful magnolia warbler feeding in an apple tree just outside the window. This is one of a whole host of warblers and other birds whose range is expected to shift as a result of global warming. The New England Regional Assessment to be published in a few weeks will document the changes that are already occurring here. On average, winters are noticeably warmer, ice
is melting off the lakes earlier, and heavy rainfall events are becoming more common. One of the biggest threats is to the maple syrup industry — sugaring season is already getting earlier in Vermont and pretty much all the models predict that sugar maple trees will eventually be pushed almost entirely out of New England if the warming trend continues.

Clean Air-Cool Planet has compiled a fact sheet on observed and predicted climate impacts in New England. We’re following that up with an ambitious project to identify a suite of indicators of climate change in the Northeast. Today I’ve been making calls to several of the scientists that are helping us. We’re looking at everything from apple blossom time and coastal erosion to the spread of Lyme disease and the number of ozone alert days, anything with a clear connection to climate variation — a rock-solid, long-term data set and a connection to people’s daily lives. This project has the potential to develop into a strong bridge between hard science and the public.

The main business for CA-CP today, though, is the training workshop we’re hosting for the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Working with ICLEI, our associate director, Charlene Garland, helped recruit 21 towns to the campaign this year (including Buffalo, N.Y.; Gloucester, Mass.; Portland, Maine; Nashua, N.H.; and Pawtucket, R.I.). And with the help of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, we’ve enabled 17 of the cities to get interns to work through the summer on greenhouse gas inventories. I spent the morning with eight of the interns and city staffers from their host towns in a training workshop over at the Portsmouth Sheraton. It’s a great mix of people — a couple of city planners, some folks from public works departments, and city environmental coordinators, along with some really smart postgraduate interns from universities across the region. They all seem to share a desire to give back to their communities. I hope everyone was as inspired as I was to hear Chris Giovinazzo of ICLEI talk about the amazing things that cities like Fort Collins, Colo., and Austin, Texas, have pulled off to achieve emissions reductions totaling hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and improve the quality of life of their citizens. If we can take this program a step further in the Northeast, it’s going to be an exciting project to be a part of.

Now I’m back in the office for the rest of the day with a bunch of administrative loose ends to tie up. I just mailed out CA-CP’s membership to the New England Science Center Collaborative (which I’ve been meaning to do for weeks!). The collaborative is a relatively new initiative that links research institutions, like the Mount Washington Observatory, to science centers, like the Massabesic Audubon Center, to increase public education on climate change.

Next, there’s a packet of information about CA-CP to send out to a prospective new board member, a brief progress report to fax to one of our foundation funders, and a slew of rapidly aging emails to reply to. I’d better stop staring out the window and get down to it.

Until tomorrow.