Though weather may be a normal topic of conversation for breakfast on any given day, nearly 100 students, faculty and community members engaged in an entirely new morning weather discussion with a side of pancakes. On Feb. 22, community members paid homage to a natural resource that constitutes the identity of New Hampshire locals: maple syrup.
Set in the Huddleston Ballroom, the Climate Impacts Breakfast allowed attendees to speak about the effects of climate change on this native natural resource, and the economy driven by this product.
Miriam Nelson and the Sustainability Institute hosted the event, which was co-sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, League of Conservation Voters, National Health Service Corps, Mom’s Clean Air Force and Environment New Hampshire, each of which had at least one member present.
The platform consisted of a combination of individuals, with standpoints ranging from business to administrative concerns. Those who spoke each revealed a central standpoint: maple syrup is a natural resource that is critical to NH economy, environment and way of life.
Their contentions arise with newly sworn in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is known to be a denier of climate change and its anthropogenic undertones.
The discussion began with a personal account whose way of life is threatened by the acceleration of climate change. Ray LaRoche, owner and operator of LaRoche Farm in Durham, drew the audience in with his eye-opening local story on how climate change has affected his career. His personal account focused around his family farm that started in 1919, the success of which was built around the production of maple syrup.
He captured the audience’s attention when he clearly detailed just how much climate change had impacted his sap yield.
“From 2000, I was producing 75 gallons of sap a year,” LaRoche said. “With the environmental changes that we’ve seen over the years, I’ve gone to producing 15 gallons a year.”
LaRoche’s personal account on how climate change has been economically harmful to many businesses provided the audience with further insight into the concerns of many business owners within the region.
Following LaRoche’s presentation was Cameron Wake, research professor of climatology and glaciology at UNH. Wake offered the audience a glimpse into the environmental detriments that occur due to climate change.
The professor shared a quote with the audience by a former New York senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”
Wake said he believes that the debate regarding climate change should revolve not simply around the science behind it, but instead around how individuals choose to face the problem head on.
Despite denial of fact-based scientific evidence by the new Presidential administration, Wake’s presentation proves that he is aware of the anthropogenic role that humans play in climate change, and remains optimistic for the future.
Much of this optimism is a result of the country’s visible diversion away from fossil fuels and liberals’ interest in conservative plans to implement carbon dividends, according to Wake.
He ended on an empowering note, stating that interests in helping municipalities prepare for the future is one that extends across party lines. To Wake, this means that collaborative efforts in reducing issues such as rising seas can be made due to concern of economical or environmental impact.
“The bad news is climate change is caused by us,” Wake said. “The good news is it’s caused by us.”
Owner of Windswept Farms in Loudon and board member of NH Maple Producers Association Jeff Moore provided the audience with a deeper understanding on how extreme changes in temperatures can impact the production of maple syrup.
“It’s that freeze that allows trees to draw water back up into the tree and create sap run,” Moore said.
After hearing the insights of struggling business owners and a professor who specializes in research, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan offered the audience hope in the form of administrative power. Hassan, who has consistently fought to protect the environment and has been a strong supporter of curbing the impacts of climate change, shared some empathetic words with her audience.
“I am disappointed that someone so at odds with scientific facts and who has worked to undermine protections for our land, our air, our water is now leading this agency,” Hassan said.
In addition, the senator shared a similar optimism with Professor Wake in her belief that science will win in the end. She was persistent in telling the audience that the work they do on the ground can make a difference, regardless of the level of politics happening in Washington D.C.
“It is the belief and priorities of our peoples and our country that will carry the day,” Hassan concluded.
Those present at the event ranged from UNH students concerned about their future to mothers wanting a thriving world for their children. Some, it seems, even left with an uplifting feeling.
Sophomore sustainable agriculture and food systems major Veronique Ok was one of the students present at the event who left the discussion feeling refreshed.
“There is a community in New Hampshire that does care about climate action and there’s support from our senator, as well as our community,” Ok said.
The discussion also drew in individuals concerned for their children’s futures.
“I am here to support public policies,” employee of Revision Energy in Brentwood Heather Fournier said. “I would love to hand my children off to a cleaner planet.”
Additionally, sophomore student with a double major in environmental and resource economics and international affairs, and current volunteer coordinator for Trash 2 Treasure program, Jake Werner, spoke of the university’s efforts to create a sustainable campus.
“Trash 2 Treasure works to reduce the waste we are putting in landfills by holding an annual yard sale at the Whittemore Center where we resell couches, desks and large items that students may not have a use for but are still in perfectly good condition,” Werner said. “[We were] drawn to UNH by the natural beauty of New Hampshire…[We are] happy to protect the environment through the Student Environment and Action Coalition.”
“We are a rugged and tough and resilient people because of our natural environment,” Hassan said.