Dan Weeks works on climate solutions at ReVision Energy, an employee-owned Benefit Corporation. He lives in Nashua with his wife and children.
Before my children even remembered it, our family engaged in a certain springtime ritual as authentic as New Hampshire, and older still.
Sometime after Valentine’s Day, as the days get longer and the temperatures start to rise, we grab our dented metal buckets and buckets from the garage, rinse them out, and get ready for our first and favorite harvest of the year. With a hammer and drill, we drilled a pair of two-inch-deep holes in each of our majestic back maples, inserted the arrows (or taps), and hung our buckets, just like our ancestors did. for many generations.
Then the magic happens. Beneath the warm skies and the watchful eyes of my children, the sap begins to flow into the taps and kerplunk in the buckets. As the buckets fill up, we carefully pour their contents into larger buckets, load them onto our tightly sealed cart and roll them down the road to our neighbour’s tub.
Once the vat is nearly full from our local sugar bush, we join our friendly neighbor as he turns on his evaporator and boils the watery sap for hours. Finally, out of the fog of scorching sweetness, we receive our reward: pure New Hampshire maple syrup. A perfect pancake filling. A delicious sign of spring.
But this year was different. After a prolonged warm spell at the start of winter, temperatures remained low for the past few weeks until a sudden jump caused early tree bud burst and shortened the maple season in the southern section. Painfully short, from the perspective of our children, not to mention the hundreds of maple syrup producers in our state and our rural economy.
In fact, in low-lying areas of southern New Hampshire, the sudden shift from frozen days and nights to an outright thaw reduced the maple season from six or more weeks to just one week in March, according to a local maple syrup producer we visited. It was too short for us and our neighbor from Nashua, much to the dismay of our family. Even the region’s established producers, whose draft tube technology allows them to extract more sap in intermittent weather, have reported half of a ‘typical’ year’s syrup production, if such a thing remains. .
Indeed, while this may be the first weeklong harvest our state has seen in the hundreds of years since Native Americans invented maple syrup and shared with our ancestors, this was not the only slowdown. According to the latest data from the USDA and the NH Maple Grower’s Association, last year’s season saw an 18% drop in maple syrup production from the previous year and a drop of 33 % since the recent peak in 2016. That means 42,000 gallons less of the sweet stuff, even though the number of individual faucets remained the same at around 530,000.
What is the origin of our misadventure in New Hampshire? According to researchers studying maple trees across the region, the culprit is climate change. As humans emit more greenhouse gases (GHGs) by burning fossil fuels, the cover that makes up the Earth’s atmosphere thickens and more of the sun’s rays are absorbed by land and sea. Here in New Hampshire, the rate of GHG emissions is 15 million metric tons per year, which is equivalent to 375,000 fully loaded tractor-trailer trucks being injected into our atmosphere, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2 ).
Once there, it takes between 300 and 1,000 years for the CO2 to decay, meaning what we do today will affect not just our children and grandchildren, but many generations of people and families. maples to come. Already, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is 417 parts per million, according to NASA, the highest rate since the beginning of human life.
In New Hampshire, these fossil fuel emissions have raised average surface temperatures by 2.3 degrees F in summer and 6.0 degrees F in winter since 1970, according to the latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA). The disproportionate increase in winter temperatures is linked to a marked drop in snow cover already evident in winter, which means that less sunlight is reflected back into the atmosphere and more is absorbed by the earth, one of many negative feedback loops that threaten to accelerate heating. always further.
As a result, the optimal climate for maple syrup production is expected to shift north about 250 miles from the 43rd parallel in southern New Hampshire to the 48th parallel north of Quebec City by 2100, according to a peer-reviewed research from Dartmouth College, USA. Geological survey and other institutions. This could spell the death knell for maple syrup in New Hampshire.
And it’s not just maple trees and our $250 million maple syrup industry that are threatened by global warming in the Granite State. UNH researchers have found that higher winter temperatures turn snow into rain, with total snowfall expected to fall by 50% this century. This means that only one in seven ski areas in the region will likely be in operation by the year 2100 when my children reach old age, a huge loss to recreation and the $500 million ski industry of our State. Many ski areas, like Temple Mountain where I learned to ski as a child, have already closed their doors for good.
The same goes for New Hampshire’s iconic moose population, which has already halved to about 3,500 moose over the past twenty years, according to researchers at UNH and NH Fish and Game. If current trends continue, New Hampshire could lose its entire moose population, as warming winters make them susceptible to ticks and other parasites. Like the moose, we humans have seen a doubling of tick-borne Lyme disease cases reported to the CDC in the past five years, not to mention the hundreds of granite staters who die prematurely each year from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.
If these statistics put a sour taste in your mouth, consider the bright side: because global warming is caused by us humans, we can also solve it by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions without compromising our quality of life. Rather than sending $5.5 billion of our hard-earned money out of state each year to import fossil fuels, we can harness our own local renewable energy to power a healthy future while boosting billions of dollars in new investments and creating thousands of well-paying local jobs. .
All it takes to get started is for the governor and legislative majority of New Hampshire to follow the lead of the people by embracing climate science and declaring our state open for business to solve the climate crisis. Indeed, the latest 2021 survey data reveals that nearly three-quarters of Granite Staters agree that global warming is happening and harming plants and animals, and eight in ten want stronger government incentives for climate action. .
At Concord, action begins with setting meaningful targets for carbon-free electricity from offshore wind and solar; remove the artificial net metering cap that prevents companies from producing their own electricity on a large scale; and investing in energy efficiency and the beneficial electrification of heating and transport. For too long, legislation to do just that has languished in Concord as energy prices soar and our neighboring states reap the rewards of a rapidly expanding clean energy economy.
For syrup’s sake, I hope our politicians get the hang of sustainability before it’s too late.