In my part of the world, we welcome spring as the harbinger of brighter days. Buds poke green out of the bare-bones branches of trees. Flowers emerge from the cold, wet earth to provide glimpses of much needed color amidst a sea of green grass and brown everything else. Trees along the riverbank that were just last week brushy sticks are now awash in fresh green growth.
I’m old enough to have weathered a few seasons. I can tell you that, like last spring, this spring was unseasonably warm. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn moved its tulip festival up one week because of early blooms. Mother Earth is speaking.
The switch to spring is as good a time as any to discuss climate change. Throughout February, we had numerous days of 60 degree plus weather. On February 10th of this year, I was able to sit by a pond in the evening and listen to the frogs wearing just a sweatshirt. This doesn’t happen in Oregon. We can debate the climate issue and circle one another, defending our positions with fangs bared and claws out, but it would behoove us to listen to what the scientists have to say.
Number one, climate is not weather. (Yes, I know I just referenced my weather.) The two are related, but you cannot judge climate change by the amount of snow in your backyard or how warm it is one February evening. Instead, you look for trends. Are storms coming at odd times and with increasing intensity? Are Februaries in your area getting statistically warmer as the years pass? You may better be able to judge based on the new species of starfish that are gradually working up the coastline from warmer waters or by the plants that originally wouldn’t grow in your climate zone. You may be able to judge based on dying coral reefs that can’t withstand a quick rise in ocean temperature or water levels. You may be able to judge based on the crazy storms that result from a water cycle on steroids. You can’t judge solely on the weather you experience on a daily basis.
The climate debate brings to mind a similar debate back in the 80s. Scientists warned that there were areas in the atmosphere where ozone was thinning to alarmingly low levels. There were deniers at that time also, but they didn’t have the voice they do with the soapbox of the internet and social media. Still, the marketing and PR machine got to work “debunking” the “myth.” They were outshouted, thankfully, and a ban on CFCs was put into place. It was a worldwide consensus and a worldwide solution. It turns out the situation was worse than even the scientists had imagined. NASA created a scenario to show what our world would have looked like if the cycle were left to continue unabated.
We only have one world, and if our species is to survive, we need to protect not just it, because it will go on without us, but ourselves. Climate change deniers, including many who are running for the highest office in the land, insist that the climate is always changing. This is true. The climate millions of years ago was drastically different than it is today, but we were not here. It didn’t affect humanity. Our crops, our skin cells, our lungs did not depend on the balance of ozone or oxygen or carbon. There were no fixed location farms that relied on Mother Nature to provide consistent temperatures and rainfall patterns. Even in recent earth history (because 250,000 years in 4.5 billion is recent) small bands of humans followed their food source. We don’t have that option now.
We are a part of our world, not onlookers to it. We have adapted to the climate that we live in today. We are as dependent on the cycles we know and rely on as our fellow creatures. Our population worldwide has increased to staggering levels and we have so far managed to also raise the carrying capacity through technology and global infrastructure, but in an age of uncertainty and continued growth, how long will this serve us?
I recently subbed in a classroom where a fifth grade boy excitedly piped up that astronomers had found another earth. He stated that we had somewhere to go when Earth didn’t suit us any more. I had to play the part of buzzkill and remind him that it takes 6 months to get to Mars, and that it took Voyager One 36 years to get to the edge of the solar system. This planet (probably Kepler-186f) would be light years away and unreachable by any technology that we have today. My parting words were that we have one planet, Earth, and we need to take care of it.
So whether you look out your window at budding trees, emerging tulips, evergreen tropical plants or desert cactus, consider the bigger picture. Climate change is real and is happening now. In the words recently quoted by President Obama, “We are the first generation to feel its effects and the last generation who can do anything about it.” What will you do?