By Jenevra Wetmore
The past few years have shown that Vermont is a popular place to live. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont property sales to out-of-state buyers increased by 38% from 2019 to 2020 (The previous year saw a mere 3% increase, and no change the year before that). Of all Vermont towns, Woodstock ranked 6th on the list of towns with the highest residential property sales to out-of-state buyers. Killington, Hartford, Plymouth, and Pomfret ranked 10th, 11th, 13th, and 15th respectively. In short, our area of the state has become a very attractive place to move to.
There are numerous reasons attributed to the rising numbers of people moving to Vermont, one of them being climate migration. There is no established legal definition of climate migrants, but generally speaking they are people who leave their homes due to climate stressors such as wildfires, drought, floods, sea level rise, or other climate impacts that make staying put dangerous or impossible. Given the current housing market, those moving to Vermont for climate-related reasons are largely people with the financial means to do so.
We are lucky to live in a place expected to be relatively stable in the face of climate change. The EPA has ranked Vermont fourth in a nationwide assessment of resilience to extreme weather events brought on by climate change. A 2020 county-by-county analysis of the United States by ProPublica ranked six of the top seven counties for climate resiliency in Vermont. Interestingly, Windsor County fell further down the list due to risk of extreme heat and humidity. These scores were based on impacts of: heat, heat and humidity, crop yields, sea level rise, wildfires, and economic damage. Overall, Vermont far outperformed other states like Arizona, where some counties will experience temperatures above 95 degrees for half the year. By 2050, parts of the Midwest and Louisiana could see conditions that make it difficult for the human body to cool itself for nearly one out of every 20 days in the year. These are serious, life-threatening changes.
Is Vermont truly an oasis free from the effects of climate change? It is true that we are relatively safe from the effects of widespread drought, wildfires, and sea rise, but we are by no means immune to climate change. Increased warming and precipitation are expected, and we are already seeing these changes–the state’s average annual temperature has warmed by nearly 2°F, and precipitation has increased by a whopping 21%, since 1900. This comes with an increased risk of floods and droughts. Anyone that was here in 2011 for Tropical Storm Irene knows exactly what that will look like on the ground, and how quickly flooding can destroy homes and infrastructure.
On a larger scale, Vermont as we know it will cease to exist as our climate changes. The following are a summary of some of the expected changes due to the warming climate:
- increased tick populations and rates of Lyme disease
- a shortened ski season by two weeks to one month
- loss of roughly 70 bird species including the loon and hermit thrush (Vermont’s State Bird)
- increased algal blooms in our lakes, preventing safe recreation and damaging aquatic life
- less favorable conditions for our iconic sugar maple trees, damaging the maple sugar industry
- warmer, humid summers creating conditions that can limit the body’s ability to thermoregulate properly, putting human health at risk.
This list is not meant to induce panic, but to show that there is no place that is immune to climate change. That said, Vermont will remain relatively safe compared to other states. We should expect a growing influx of climate migrants and refugees, and we should be thankful to be here ourselves.
Vermont’s average annual temperature has increased by nearly 2°F since the early 1900s when Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley photographed his iconic images of snow crystals in Jericho, Vermont. Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
What can you do?
As the state moves forward with implementing a Climate Action Plan (https://climatechange.vermont.gov/), consider ways that you can reduce your emissions and prepare for warmer, wetter weather:
- Install a heat pump to keep you warm in winter and cool in the summer. Heat pumps actively remove humidity from the air in your home, which will become more important in the coming years. Find ways to eliminate fossil fuels in your home.
- Weatherize your home by adding insulation to your walls, basement, and attic. Free weatherization through SEVCA is available to income-qualifying families. Add storm windows to your home, or get Window Dressers interior storm windows (contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Join your local energy committee to encourage your town to get off fossil fuels.
- Buy an electric car or electric bike. Visit https://www.driveelectricvt.com to learn about incentives.
- Take public transportation or walk when you are able. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont is transportation, which makes up 40% of our total emissions.