Monday, March 05, 2018

Springtime in Climate Change

Springtime is inherently whacky. (‘If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb’ and all that.) But within this wackiness there has been a certain amount of climate stability that wildlife, plants, and even we have become accustomed to. Our plants and animals in our Northeast region can endure some extremes in Spring with higher and lower temperatures--for a while. However, if the trajectory is continually outside the comfort zone of our plants and animals, they probably cannot adjust.

Springtime is a time of renewal. As a metaphor, spring embodies the human heart’s yearning for hope after a long wintry absence. We expect in spring the seeds to grow and the animals to wake up, so they can cycle through their life’s great wheel of events.

But what if Climate Change is no longer a harbinger of rebirth, no longer evidence that our existence and every other being’s presence is but part of an infinite continuum? What if Springs henceforth bring a ratcheting up of more heat and more weather extremes? Instead of hope, despair?  

In the Washington, DC area, Spring is coming sooner and sooner:

Spring is running 20 days early. It’s exactly what we expect, but it’s not good. For the second year in a row, spring has sprung early. In the Mid-Atlantic, cherry blossoms started to pop out of their buds in mid-February, and the crocuses have all but come and gone. Temperatures have dipped below freezing on only five mornings this February in the District, and nature is playing along — albeit, perhaps, grudgingly. As much as spring is welcome when it arrives, it seems to feel better after a long winter. This year, winter never really started. December and January both got off to a cold start, but that quickly changed through the end of those months. By mid-February, we saw March flowers pop out of the ground. Winter is dead. According to the National Phenology Network, spring is running 20 days or more ahead of schedule in parts of the Ohio River Valley and the Mid-Atlantic. That will soon be the case in the Midwest and the Northeast. (February 27, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area] 

Here in New York, our experts say Spring is coming about a week sooner than usual:

“Since the 1960s, the growing season has lengthened by nearly a week, as evidenced by observations of earlier spring bloom dates for lilacs, apples, and grapes at agricultural research stations across the state.” (Page 3, New York’s Changing Climate, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences)

Blooming early is not necessarily a good thing:

Fruit Trees Need Winter Chill for Spring Growth Apples, cherries, and peaches grown in the U.S. are worth more than $4 billion dollars annually. The trees that produce these and other fruits are increasingly at risk as winters warm from climate change. Fruit trees and certain bushes must go through a dormant period each winter in preparation for producing fruit the following spring and summer. This rest period, also known as a chilling period, is directly related to the temperature. For many varieties of trees, the most efficient temperature for chilling is 45°F, with little additional chilling effect at temperatures below 32°F. Brief warm spells in winter have a negative effect — temperatures above 70°F for four or more hours offset any chilling that happened in the previous 24-36 hours. (February 21, 2018) Climate Central [more on Plants, Food, and Climate Change in our area]

Climate Change is occurring far quicker than it ever has for a very long time—even faster than some great extinction events of the past—and we will have failed to act.  Without climate scientists, the public is not going to be able to separate the wackiness, or year-to-year noise, of Spring’s volatile weather and see the danger.

We need to act. We need more scientists. We need to fund more scientific research on how Climate Change will affect our future. We need more educators to communicate what climate scientists have discovered about our warming world.

Springtime in Climate Change will continue to crank around each year. Until it doesn’t. The time to fix Spring and our other seasons is now. 

Time passes. 

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