Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Yes, America, Climate Change WILL Affect You, Too

I was reading this article yesterday.  For those who don't want to click-through, it's about the perception of "climate change" by the American public.  The gist is that most Americans believe that Climate Change is a real thing - that is, that the climate is changing, and it could be a problem that, maybe, someone should do something about.

As the article points out, however, that problem is that, while most Americans recognize the fact of Climate Change, most of them don't believe it will really affect them.  I mean, we all know that those of us living on the coasts might end up having to move, because our houses will get flooded when the oceans rise, but what-evs, right?  We live in a mobile, disposable society.  Who cares if we have to move off the beach and further up the hill?

Unfortunately, it's really not that simple.  There are, actually, deeper concerns than just ocean rise that WILL affect us.

I read this article a few weeks ago.  It's been in the back of my head to say something about it, but I didn't know what to say, until I saw that report about the common view of how climate change will affect us. 

For those who don't want to click through, the article is entitled "The Five Big Mass Extinctions", and according to the article, around 251 million years ago, there was an eruption near Siberia that sent massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, and "methanogenic bacteria responded by belching out methane (a greenhouse gas)."  The combination of the two events caused a warming of the planet and an acidification of the oceans, resulting in a 96% species loss.  In short, life on Earth was nearly wiped out.

CO2?  Greenhouse gasses?  Global warming?  Acidifying oceans?  Sound familiar?

The end of the world is all too scary and catastrophic for the average, chick-flick-loving American to think too much about, and so we tend to bury our heads in the proverbial sands and just go about our day.  But the reality is that there are less apocalyptic events than the end of life on Earth that ARE occurring and that DO affect us.

First there is the issue of species migration.  When Deus Ex Machina was a kid, there was no such thing as opossum living in Maine.  I see them here all of the time, now.  They've migrated north with the warming of the overall temperatures. 

Opossum going north?  So what, you say?  Yeah, it's probably a good thing, actually, because opossum eat ticks.  Ticks are the main, known vector for Lyme disease.  In the last forty years, since it was first discovered, Lyme disease has proven to be a lot worse than was originally thought.  In fact, in a recent article Dr. Mercola states that Lyme will "plague America."  Most of us living in the northeast know someone who has had or does have Lyme.  It's a real issue. 

Ticks aren't the only disease vectors, and insects who carry potentially fatal diseases are moving into areas where they weren't normally found, because the environment for them has become more hospitable.  Tropical diseases, like West Nile, are finding their way into places as far north as New York City.  Zika?  Yep, on it's way up

Of course, that's no big deal, right, because they'll spray the mosquitoes, and we can just avoid ticks by staying out of the woods, or we can use a bug spray to protect ourselves.  Ignore that pesky evolution thing, you know, that allows species to mutate and develop immunities.

There are other issues that will, at least, marginally affect all of us.

One of the most concerning has to do with growing food.  Most of the produce we Americans find in our grocery stores is grown in California - an area that is being plagued by a decades-long drought.  There are places in southern California where their water supplies have completely dried out.  Changing climate patterns are going to exacerbate the drought conditions.  How much longer we will be able to depend on that area for our food production? 

Or, worse, when will they start to transport water, the way we transport oil, from water-rich places to those agricultural centers?  When will they start to take Maine's water to hydrate the fields in California?

Water wars are already happening in other parts of the world.  Lake Chad sits on the border between Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon on the African continent.  Over the past several decades, it has been shrinking.  The millions of people who have depended on the lake for their water are finding themselves in dire straits, with each country claiming the rights of access to that water for its citizens.  Imagine if Lake Superior started getting smaller, and the people of Michigan started to feel like the Canadians were taking more than their share of the water, but water is life, and we all need it to exist.  Both the Americans and the Canadians would fight for the right to access that water.  That's what's happening with Lake Chad.   As the lake recedes, there's less water, but there are the same number of people needing that water.

Another issue has to do with rising temperatures, and I know, this time of year, especially here in Maine, where I look out my window and I see snow still blanketing everything, summer heat seems a distant promise, but there are parts of the US where they may experience more than just heat.

I lived in the southeast US for most of my childhood and early adulthood.  I spent my elementary and junior high school years in Georgia and Alabama.  I lived in Kentucky as a teenager.  After I graduated from college, I moved to Florida for a little bit.  After I joined the military, I spent just over two years in South Carolina, Alabama and Texas.

The one commonality of all of those places was the astronomical summer temperatures combined with oppressive humidity (yes, even in Texas the humidity was oppressive).  I used to joke that we had to have gills to live there. 

It was only half of a joke, actually, and there is a term that is used to measure the combined heat and humidity.  It's called "wet bulb."  I actually experienced what wet bulb can do to a body when I was living in the south.  The gist is when the temperature rises, the human physiological response is to sweat.  When the sweat evaporates, it cools our skin and keeps our core temperature from rising.

The problem is that when the air is already too heavy with water (humidity), it can't evaporate our sweat off our skin, and we end up just dripping, but not cooling.  As a youngster, I suffered heat exhaustion when my body couldn't cool itself. 

One of the results of climate change will be an increase in the wet bulb phenomenon in the US southeast, and at some point, those places where I lived as a youth in Alabama, Georgia and the panhandle of Florida, may no longer be habitable by humans during the summer.

This year, we experienced a very long "January thaw", and we tapped our maples.  Unfortunately, for us, the weather turned cold and snowy again, and we haven't, really, harvested enough sap to boil.  We may or may not have any syrup this year.

The maple sugaring industry here in Maine has been hard hit for the past several years, thanks to some really weird weather.  Most of the last five years of sugaring have been short seasons for us.  For the sap to run, the nights have to be below freezing, and the days have to be above freezing.  We haven't had long enough stretches of that occurring for the last few years for commercial sugar houses to make what they used to make.  When sugarers get less sap, but still have to do the same amount of work to get the syrup, the price of the syrup increases.

Maybe most folks don't care about *real* maple syrup, but for those of us who do, it is a real-life example of how climate change is personally affecting us. 

Look around you.  There is something similar happening in your world - an insect or animal that wasn't in your town a few years ago but has suddenly appeared on the landscape; a plant that used to thrive in your climate that no longer grows well; a plant that your climate couldn't sustain that is suddenly thriving; more water in places where there used to be none; streams or lakes drying up; birds that used to migrate that have become year round residents. 

Climate change is real, and it's a real threat to life as we know it.  We probably can't stop it, now that it's already happening, but being aware can at least allow us to make some changes in our own lives that will help us weather the effects. 

I don't know how many more years we'll have maple syrup, but as a hedge, I could start planting other tap-able trees that were not cold hardy enough for our past climate.  Chances are, they'll do fine now, as my hardiness zone grows warmer.



  1. You are spot on. Every year the weather gets crazier and crazier. And no one really care except when it interferes with their holiday plans. But for those of us. The live closely with Mother Nature. And rely on her to help us grow our crops we see the devastation that is coming. Living in Australia we have many cycles of drought. Those cycles are lasting longer and happening more and more
    It's getting harder and harder to crow in our very hot summers. Right now my main growing season is in the winter but for how long will that last

  2. Yes, crazier weather! We have a brutal snowy winter, now flooding. The flip side of excess:( I have heard about other trees that can be tapped for syrups, like birch, and some others? Not sure about the flavor though...

  3. Whilst I believe that the general population is more likely to believe in AGW than our American counterparts, I think a lot of Brits have the same idea that it will be distant problem that doesn't affect them. A few winters of widespread flooding a few years ago came as a huge shock - even though an increase in those events has been predicted by climate change models. We've had a worryingly mild winter this year, and we have had massive variation in winters over the past decade - things are certainly weirding, but I don't think it worries anyone quite enough yet.