How Does the Climate Crisis Affect New England?
New England is part of the larger Northeast region of the US, and made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
Nearly 15 million people call these six states home. Many New Englanders would argue the region has the most beautiful fall season of anywhere on the planet. Many more might contend that the most delicious lobster and seafood around can be found just off its coast.
But thanks to climate change, the region is seeing wicked big shifts in temperatures on land and at sea, putting all that natural beauty, the region’s fishing industry, and more at grave risk.
Here’s the climate reality: By 2035, the Northeast is expected to be more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) warmer, on average, than it was before the Industrial Revolution.
The Northeastern US is warming faster than any other region in the lower 48. This is especially true for the winter season, which has warmed three times faster than summers have. In fact, as of 2017, five of the six New England states had already warmed by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s — only Vermont has stayed a bit cooler on average, warming by just over 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
You might think a few degrees is no big deal, right?
Wrong. The changes in temperature and seasonality that scientists have observed and predict for the future have big implications for New Englanders’ health and the region’s economy. That’s because even just a few degrees can dramatically impact stable systems and challenge our ability to cope.
Let’s start with the economy. The National Climate Assessment from 2018 lays out three industries that will be impacted by rising temperatures in New England:
- Fruit farms: Changes in temperature mean shifts in seasons. Unseasonably warm days in spring mean fruit trees start to bud. But then, that crop is lost once a hard freeze or cold spell hits again.
- Ski resorts: According to the NCA, “the Northeast winter recreation industry is an important economic resource for rural areas, supporting approximately 44,500 jobs and generating between $2.6–2.7 billion in revenue annually.” But warmer temperatures mean a later start and earlier finish to the season, putting stress on the industry and its workers.
The fishing industry: It’s not just life on land that’s getting warmer — it’s life underwater, too. Species like Atlantic cod, shrimp, and lobster have all been impacted by warmer ocean waters. New England is known for its incredible seafood, but these changes are making it harder and harder for people who catch our fish to keep up.
Climate "shocks" eliminated 16% of New England's fishing jobs between 1996 and 2017, according to a new study out today.— Alexander Kaufman (@AlexCKaufman) December 9, 2019
The actual impact on the region's seafood industry could be even higher, as the models here are limited in scope. https://t.co/EdEoMfXBcJ pic.twitter.com/gm9N1PH1ht
And as for health, there are myriad ways the climate crisis could impact the health of New Englanders – from flooding and waterborne illnesses to increased pathogens in shellfish and much more.
But the direct impact of rising heat on humans? There is expected to be more heat waves across the entirety of the US Northeast, especially in cities. And according to the NCA, the “combination of heat stress and poor urban air quality can pose a major health risk to vulnerable groups” like the young, the elderly, those experiencing homelessness, and those with preexisting respiratory conditions.
Sea Level Rise and Warming Oceans
Here’s the climate reality: Compared to the rest of the US, scientists have observed some of the highest rates of both sea level rise and ocean warming off the New England coast — and that’s expected to stay true through the rest of this century.
Let’s take a look at just one example. In Boston, Massachusetts, sea levels have risen eight inches since 1950, and the rate of rise is increasing dramatically. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has committed $30 million a year over the next five years to defend the city from rising seas.
Climate change is directly linked to sea level rise in two main ways:
- Added heat melts glaciers and ice sheets. This means extra water flowing into our oceans, making them higher than they used to be.
- Water expands as it warms – and New England’s oceans are getting much warmer. Imagine a pot of water heating on the stove. The volume of that water in the pot grows as it heats up. Now, imagine an entire ocean doing that.
According to First Street Foundation and Columbia University, sea level rise cost New England more than $400 million in home values between 2005 and 2017, with Massachusetts hit especially hard. One Columbia professor explained the findings simply: “Increased tidal flooding leads to a loss in home value appreciation. As sea level rise accelerates, we expect the corresponding loss in relative home value to accelerate as well.”
>> Read More: Why Are Sea Levels Rising? <<
New England waters are not only becoming higher, they are becoming warmer. Since 1901, water along the coast has gotten 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. This has had an enormous impact on fish, the fishing industry, and the communities that depend on both.
Let’s look at the Gulf of Maine, a large Atlantic Ocean gulf that touches Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine (as well Canadian provinces Nova Scotia and New Brunswick). It’s warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans.
As reported by the Washington Post, climate change and changing ocean temperatures are creating winners and losers in New England. In Rhode Island, “the state’s lobster haul peaked at over 8 million pounds in 1999. It hasn’t exceeded 3 million since 2005.” According to the NCA, lobster populations “have declined in southern regions where temperatures have exceeded their biological tolerances.”
The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world's oceans.— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) February 1, 2019
It's dramatically disrupting fishery patterns and creating major winners — and losers. https://t.co/8nHc5huvd0 pic.twitter.com/xP21WSz0DZ
But in Maine, where ocean water has warmed to just the right temperature, things are totally different, as the Post reports: “Maine’s fisheries have gone from landing about 20 million pounds of lobster each year in the 1980s to nearly 120 million pounds this decade.” But the science shows that if the Gulf of Maine keeps warming, fisheries are expected to collapse there, too.
Join the Fight for Climate Solutions
Here’s the climate reality: The solutions we need to solve the climate crisis? They’re already available today. And we need people like you to help.
Whether you live in the Northeast or not, you can take action to solve the climate crisis today. To learn how to get started, download our latest (free!) e-book, What Can You Do? Your Guide to Climate Action in 2020.
The impacts of the climate crisis may be far-reaching, but here’s the good news: solutions exist right now that can help us improve quality of life and work toward a more sustainable future for all of us.
And you are key to making those solutions a reality. Download this free new resource and learn how to shape climate action and drive change in your community today.