Sugarmaker concerned about global warming

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(Host) This winter, some sugarmakers in Vermont began tapping their trees in January.

The strange weather worries longtime maple producer Burr Morse of East Montpelier, who used to dismiss talk of global warming.

But now he says Vermont’s maple sugar industry should sound the warning about climate change.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Morse has made its living from the land and the trees for eight generations.

Burr Morse came to the Statehouse to talk about how climate change could affect Vermont’s quintessential product.

(Morse) “Maybe it’s good that I’m here, or someone from the maple industry, because we may be the most famous canaries of all when it relates to this subject.”

(Dillon) Morse says the sap flows in maple trees during a sweet window of perfect weather. Temperatures have to rise above freezing in the day – and it has to get cold, but not too cold at night.

And maple trees need cold winters to survive.

(Morse) “We’re dealing with a wild tree. The maple gets nourishment from the earth and it needs a long and cold winter rest period. And so I do worry, and so I think I can speak for sugarmakers that it is a concern.”

(Dillon) In less than a century – if climate models from the Environmental Protection Agency are correct – Vermont’s weather could be more like Richmond, Virginia. Maple forests could be replaced by oak and hickory. Vermonters may have to slog through five months of mud season.

Morse says he’s always had a Vermonter’s skeptical attitude toward what he calls whacko theories and sky-is-falling scenarios. But he’s a believer now in climate change.

(Morse) “I don’t think we have any right to call global warming a liberal thing or a conservative thing. It is a human thing. And it is an animal thing, a plant thing, and an anything that lives thing. And if we have done anything to cause it, we need to undo it.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers are considering a bill that encourage renewable energy and set greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Senator Ginny Lyons chairs the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. She says the biggest obstacle in the Statehouse is a lack of awareness about climate change.

(Lyons) “This year the big problem is health care. Another year permit reform is the big issue. Global warming, climate change, greenhouse gas initiatives never rise to that level because the changes have been so incremental.”

(Dillon) The Vermont Public Interest Research Group hopes to make more people aware of the looming threat of climate change. The environmental group brought sugarmaker Morse and others to the Statehouse this week. And V-PIRG recently published a book outlining the warning signs of global warming in Vermont – and possible statewide solutions.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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