Dartmouth Panel Discusses Climate

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/4/2016 12:21:30 AM
Modified: 4/4/2016 12:22:24 AM

Lebanon — About 60 public health professionals and volunteers came to an auditorium at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center last week, not to debate the reality of climate change, but to prepare for it.

Reducing the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are warming the Earth requires broader action, but responses to the adverse effects can begin closer to home, said Alex Jaccaci, co–chairman of the Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup.

“Climate change adaptation must be seen as a local issue,” Jaccaci said as he called Wednesday’s community forum to order.

Change is already evident, said Erich Osterberg, a climatologist at Dartmouth College: “We just had the warmest winter on record, at the end of the warmest year on record.”

Organizers of the event said that experience should generate action.

“Now is the time to build resiliency, to acclimate ourselves to what’s coming,” said Alice Ely, executive director of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, a network leading public health initiatives in 12 New Hampshire municipalities.

Warmer and wetter summers pose a particular threat to the region’s fast-growing senior population, which state planners have projected will more than double in the next three decades, from 7,600 in 2010 to 16,700 in 2040.

Heat waves pose a particular threat, Osterberg said, noting that the death toll was 35,000 in France and elsewhere in Europe when temperatures soared to record levels during August 2003.

In the Hanover area, the high temperature exceeded 90 degrees eight days a year, on average, from 1980 to 2009, Osterberg said. By 2070, the average total number of days above 90 degrees could reach 58, he said. The summer climate in the Upper Valley could resemble that currently experienced in southern Virginia and North Carolina, he said.

Addressing that threat should be the first item of business for people who want to support the local response to climate change, Ely said. After focusing on outreach and education this summer, the plan is to then prioritize measures developing a heat alert system and putting cooling shelters in place, she said.

But there is no ready-made template to follow, she added: “We have a lot to learn about what will actually work in our community.”

Warmer summers and longer growing seasons will also translate into more pollen, pollution and disease-spreading insects, according to a 24-page planning document distributed at the event. Health effects could include elevated rates of allergies, asthma, heart disease, Lyme disease and eastern equine encephalitis.

The average temperature in Hanover has risen 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, and will rise another four to nine degrees by the end of this century, depending on what steps are taken to decrease greenhouse gas levels, Osterberg said.

He urged listeners not to get lost in the numbers.

“Who cares about 10 degrees?” he asked. “The Earth cares about 10 degrees.”

Rick Jurgens can be reached at rjurgens@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.

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