Report weighs global-warming effect on N.H. economy

Say goodbye to the cod-fishing industry off in Georges Bank. Farewell to hardwood logging in the White Mountain National Forest. Forget about the ski and snowmobile industries in the Granite State. And few tourists would be shopping at Hampton Beach’s shops when they are under water.

These are just some of the possible economic effects that would come under the “conservative” global-warming scenarios gleaned from a report released Wednesday by the Northeast Climate Impact Assessment, a group of scientists and policy wonks in Concord, and endorsed by New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Tom Burack.

And while it is true that much of the dire scenarios won’t take place until well into the century — and only to the full extent if we don’t change our carbon-burning ways. Thom Perkins, the executive director of the Jackson Ski Tourism Foundation said he can already see the effects on the 100 miles of cross-country trails his nonprofit organization maintains in the North Country.

“We are experiencing what they are talking about,” he told NHBR Daily as he stood watching a press conference to discuss the report. Already there has been a 50 percent reduction in skiers, partly because the season is starting a month later than usual, and partly because precipitation that used to be snow now comes down as rain.

Thanks to a generous donor, the foundation was able to spend $500,000 to smooth out the trails, so they will work with less snow, Perkins said. But it’s too wide an area to cover with snowmakers.

If – as the report suggests – the length of winters is cut in half, “we’re out of business,” he said. And so would many of the two dozen lodging establishments and dozens of restaurants that depend on the traffic. And the report doesn’t even mention what the scenarios would do to the value of homes and condominiums in the area.

Without a doubt, it would be New Hampshire’s snow recreation industry that would be the most severely hit if winter temperatures rise – as the report predicts — from 9 to 13 degrees by the latter part of the 21st century. Look at the effect already of a mere four-degree increase over the past 30 years.

The northern New England ski industry would only be viable in western Maine, for instance. If emissions are cut, there would still be some skiing in the North Country only, but the cost of snowmaking would increase by 40 percent, according to the report.

Snowmobiling? According to the report, you could count the number of snowmobiling days on four hands, and that is only in the higher elevations of the White Mountains.

The North Country economy would literally feel the heat in other ways as well. Fir and spruce habitats would slowly migrate to Canada. While they would eventually be replaced by oaks and other southern wood, the transition would not be without pain or economic loss said Scott Ollinger, who worked on the forest impacts of the study.

Already, loggers have to deal with a longer mud season with equipment that is ill-suited for mud. They could invest in new equipment as the mud seasons grow, but not without considerable expense. And the new weather would bring new pathogens that the trees would be ill-equipped to resist. And that doesn’t even count the effect of what would happen if maple disappeared in New Hampshire, rendering our foliage season into that of West Virginia.

The rise in temperature means a rise in sea water, from anywhere from one foot to two feet. That means that “hundred-year” storms could happen once every two years. In Boston alone, rising sea waters could create some $20 billion in damage, according to Dr. Ellen Douglass, a Portsmouth resident who is a professor in the Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences Department at the University of Massachusetts.

There are not enough statistics to estimate property damage on New Hampshire’s Seacoast, she said. But she noted that areas that would be deluged in a hundred-year flood include much of Hampton Beach, and in Portsmouth, Prescott Park and Strawberry Banke.

The increase in temperatures also would be bad news for cod fisherman in the Georges Bank area and to a lesser extent off the Gulf of Maine. The good news is that lobster harvesting won’t be affected in Georges Bank and might actually improve in the Gulf of Maine.

The effect of global warming on agriculture also would work both ways. While the apple and maple syrup harvests would suffer, rising temperatures would increase the growing seasons of other crops.

Finally, global warming would affect all business indirectly. The higher summer temperatures – which would mean some 65 days a year with the thermometer over 90, as opposed to the current nine – would result in tripling the number of bad air days, causing more asthma and other breathing problems, and would attract mosquitoes to spread such diseases as the West Nile virus. And guess who would pay for those higher health costs in their insurance premiums?

Despite the gloomy scenario, Cameron Wake, a professor at the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, who led the climate team, stressed that the damage could be cut in half under lower emissions standards.

“We could transfer the risk into opportunity,” he said. “We do have a choice.”

The scientists said that a combination of more reliance on renewable energy and strict conservation measures could lessen the impacts, but only if undertaken as soon as possible. – BOB SANDERS

Categories: News