Saturday, February 09, 2013

Getting the squirrel to see Climate Change in Rochester, NY


TheSquirrelThe squirrel doesn’t believe in Climate Change. As a matter of fact, as a squirrel, it thinks that today’s two feet of snow in twenty degrees has always existed. Yesterday means nothing to him. As for the future, fuhgeddaboudit.

The squirrel doesn’t care about Climate Change either. It mostly cares about nuts, its young, and interesting-smelling places where it might have buried its nuts. It’s very forgetful. Its attention is continually stolen by passersby, the latest bird feeder design, and cats. Climate Change, the accelerated anthropogenic warming of our planet since the 1850’s, is so out of its personal credulity zone as to be ludicrous. The squirrel cannot imagine Climate Change, so it doesn’t exist for the squirrel.

It should care about Climate Change. Clever though it is, the squirrel doesn’t realize that the trees that produce the nuts it likes so much may be jeopardy.

Tree species composition of northeast forests has shifted slowly in response to climate for thousands of years. However, current human-accelerated climate change is much more rapid and it is unclear how forests will respond to large changes in suitable habitat - Changing climate, changing forests: The impacts of climate change on forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada(2012) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station.

Unfortunately, the squirrel here in Rochester, NY doesn’t notice many of the Climate Changes that are going around it. “Spring bloom dates in the Northeast are now, on average, four to eight days earlier than in the 1960s”,from Climate Change and New York's Future; Lake Ontario’s ice cover has decreased by a whopping 88 percent since 1973, from Wildlife in a Warming World; less snow in the winter, from Protect Our Winters; changes in habitat suitability, from U.S. Global Change Research Program; changes in wildlife distribution, from Warming Winters Threaten America’s Outdoor Traditions - National Wildlife Federation; higher temperatures and increased heat waves, from Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID); more frosts and radiation frost and advective frost; from Indicators of Climate Change in the Northeast 2005; an increase in respiratory diseases, from Integrated Assessment for Effective Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in New York State; and, ozone pollution will get worse, from Report: Climate Change Could Worsen Ozone Pollution, Threatening Our Health and Economy | Union of Concerned Scientists .

In fact the squirrel is loathe to read long and drawn out studies of any sort, let along Climate Change studies. That’s too bad because if it did, it could plan for the changes.

The squirrel doesn’t notice these things because the squirrel doesn’t read the news, listen to it, or watch it. It’s very attuned to the present world around it, which it is why it will probably fare quite well in a warming world (provided the trees and the environment it needs are still sustainable). But it doesn’t think beyond the moment.

Actually, if the squirrel did think beyond the moment; if the squirrel cared about tomorrow’s nut; if the squirrel only listened to local media, the squirrel probably wouldn’t learn much about Climate Change. Except for a very few outlets, our local media does not connect the dots between the findings of Climate Change in our region and the news. Rochester City Newspaper has run several articles of this type recently: Taking stock of the changing climate, Climate change: extreme farming , and Climate's politics problem. But they are the exception, not the rule.

What does grab the squirrel’s attention are things that move very fast. If things are moving very slowly, it bores the squirrel to death. This is why cats and other creatures that like to stalk can actually catch the squirrel. To the squirrel’s limited attention span, stalking creatures, and seemingly slow-moving catastrophes like Climate Change, are invisible to it. They appear to be not moving, and therefore not threatening. In order to inform the squirrel about important things that move too slowly, you need to speed things up. You need make it flicker and dazzle the squirrel with information the squirrel finds critical to its existence, like the future of nuts, in an interesting and compelling way.

Take the squirrel to the world premiere of Comfort Zone on Wednesday February 13, 2013 at the Little Theatre! It’s part of the Greentopia Film Festival, where all who care about a sustainable existence get together and learn stuff that’s important to our existence—in a compelling, interesting way. The squirrel with thank you because the squirrel is very clever, very busy, and very much a part of the solution to our sustainable world.

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