In the Good (?) New Summertime

It’s hot in Vermont. It’s been in the 90s and humid for weeks. This is great for cherries and plums, grapes and apples. My neighbor’s been making cherry jam for days (add a hot stove to the equation) and she’s had to prop up the boughs of her plum tree, so heavy are they with fruit.

The sun was shining through the weekend, so farmers followed the adage and made hay. Global warming models show the northeast getting warmer and wetter, which is a better fate than the drought modeled for much of the continental U.S. Still, it will take some adjusting. As good a growing season as this has been, it’s been lousy for hay. Farmers lost a cut because it was too wet to bring it in and so it rotted in the fields.

Some fight back with technology. There’s a baling technique that will supposedly allow farmers to bale wet hay in plastic. If you live in the country and see those things in fields that look like overgrown marshmallows, they’re hay in plastic bales. The idea is that the plastic creates an anaerobic (i.e. “no oxygen”) environment, which means even wet hay won’t rot. Supposedly.

Problem is, the global warming model also means more hailstorms in the northeast and the hail punctures the plastic and there goes your anaerobic environment. Bottom line, literally, is that hay is selling for four dollars a bale this summer, up from two dollars a bale last year.

The price of hay isn’t making headlines in Vermont, but the price of heating oil is. Most people in Vermont heat their houses with heating oil. (Only two of our 14 counties have access to natural gas.) Most people sign their annual contracts for heating oil in July, when the price is at its annual low. This July, the price of heating oil is around five dollars a gallon. The average home uses 800 gallons each winter. That’s $4,000 to heat your home from late October to late April (if you’re lucky).

New England states received $313 million in federal aid for heating last winter and will ask for one billion dollars for this winter. (Meanwhile, the feds are bailing out the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage companies to the tune of $75 billion. Oh, and John McCain’s going to balance the budget by 2012, but he doesn’t say how.)

In other news relating to meaningless promises, the leaders of the industrialized world met at the G-8 summit in Japan and promised to cut global greenhouse emissions in half by 2050. The first notable aspect of this promise is that by 2050 not only will all those people be put of office, but in the grave for 15 or 20 years. One can almost hear them mocking us from the great beyond.

The other interesting feature of the promise is that the “leaders” never defined the “whole” that the “half” will be measured by. By 2050, they promised to cut emissions “in half.” Half of what? This year’s emissions? Or half of 1990 emissions, which is the base year the Kyoto process has been working with?

James Hansen, director of science at NASA and one of the few honest people in the federal government who still manage to find access to the news media, was in Japan too. He brought along a presentation on where we stand in relation to global warming with some of the most recent data available anywhere. (You can see it here and read a letter from Dr. Hansen to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda here.)

Dr. Hansen, who probably knows more about global warming than anyone on Earth, warned we have 10 years to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. By “worst consequences,” he means before we start a worldwide planetary chain reaction we can’t stop. He gave us the warning two years ago and since then, we’ve only managed to make things worse.

We have eight years left. Coincidentally, the next eight years span two presidential terms of office. Much is made in the news about the choices we face this election year. The choice we make will determine what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan. The choice we make will determine tax policy and the size and shape of the deficit. The choice we make will determine the composition of the Supreme Court.

Try this on for size: The choice we make will determine if our species survives.

© Mark Floegel, 2008

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