BELMONT, Vt. – April Melvin, a native of Belmont and now staff scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, gave a talk on “Understanding Climate Change in Your Backyard” at the Mt. Holly Library Community Room on July 28. Melvin studies climate change and works with other bright scientists and government officials, ultimately encouraging everyone to work together and reduce the impact of human activity on our planet.
Melvin was a bright, curious, and hardworking little girl, and her attitude and determination has brought her to where she is today. Following ten years of post-secondary education, she’s studied the effects of air pollution, climate change, and human forest management on forest health, in both the Adirondacks and Alaska. Her desire to get to the root of the problem and mitigate human effects brought her to Washington D.C., where she became involved in policy development at the Environmental Protection Agency, which addresses societal impacts and economic damage caused by a changing climate. In her role at the National Academy of Sciences, she brings together world-renowned scientists to inform governmental agencies on climate change and to provide them with the latest information.
What is climate? What is climate change?
A region’s climate is its long term weather, typically referring to the average of various weather patterns over thirty years, which minimizes the effect of daily or yearly fluctuations. Climate is also somewhat predictable; in Vermont, you’re unlikely to need an air conditioner, but in Florida, you’ll “die” without it. We expect a certain amount of rain, snow, and plan for a particular length growing season. Everything living in our area has adapted to flourish in this climate.
Human activities are diminishing that predictability, which can be inferred from the magnitude of changes since the Industrial Revolution. It’s an exponential curve.
Since the last Ice Age about 800,000 years ago, we are living in the most drastic period of climate change, which we measure by analyzing the chemistry of our atmosphere. We compare today’s measurements to ancient samples trapped underneath miles of ice; the change is obvious, and concurrent with the usage of fossil fuels.
Climate change is the long term change of a complex system of patterns on our planet, precipitation patterns, wind patterns, and temperature are only the beginning. Extreme weather patterns are already becoming more commonplace, and wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, and other phenomena are more severe. The melting of glacial ice and arctic sea ice contribute to rising sea levels, and we’re on track this year for a record in lowest ice extent. Shifting climates are encouraging the introduction of pests, pathogens, and weeds to areas previously uninhabitable to them. In addition, the thicker atmosphere will affect the number of cold nights in our area, simply because the area will stay warm even after the sun has gone.
Vermont is one of the only states that has done a state-level climate assessment, which compiled all the climate research done in Vermont. This analysis shows an average of 2 degrees increase since the early 1900s, causing warmer winters, longer growing seasons, and an additional 6 inches of precipitation spread throughout the year. With warming winters, unfortunately, more winter precipitation will fall as rain, which will affect the ski industry, and cause more severe flooding.
Climate change will affect all ways of life in ways we can and have predicted, but also in ways we can’t predict. These effects are going to become very real in the next 30 or 40 years, but it’s not too late to slow things down. To address this global challenge, we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, use of energy, and consumption of finite resources. Everybody needs to be mindful of our resource and energy consumption, take deliberate steps to reduce our footprints, and commit to education, awareness, and develop the resolve to do something now.