Interesting weather this winter, wasn’t it? Last December brought tornadoes to the south and a blizzard to west Texas. Locally, we set some near-records for daily high temperatures in late December and again in January and February.
Coming on the heels of the Paris Climate Change conference – which resulted in an agreement for nearly every nation in the world to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide through energy efficiency, reforestation, transition to renewable energy sources, and many other means – my first instinct was to attribute the extreme weather to climate change.
Well, I wasn’t entirely wrong.
I remember the first time I heard a loon. My husband, Tom, and I were camping one summer in northern Wisconsin near a small lake. That first night, we heard an eerie sound that I didn’t recognize.
“What is that?” I whispered. “That’s a loon,” reassured Tom.
Loons called from the lake each evening, providing a memorable soundtrack for what was a very relaxing vacation. The calls we heard were a “wail,” which is the sound a loon makes in the evening when it is looking for its mate.
If you’ve never heard one, take a moment to find a sample “loon wail” on the Internet. The sound is like some ghostly wolf howling, but spookier. You can listen to a variety of loon calls by clicking here.
Did anyone else notice that the President mentioned climate change during his victory speech early Wednesday morning? Specifically, he said: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
That sounds like three priorities: reduction of the National debt, equal rights for all Americans, and doing something about climate change.
For months, I have been frustrated by the absence of a National dialogue about climate change. The topic did not come up during the Presidential debates – not even a passing reference. This, despite the fact that our own Defense Department has stated that global climate change will have national security implications for the US, as rising sea waters inundate US military bases as well as low-lying nations and as changing weather patterns cause water shortages in some countries and flooding in others.
“We will pay for [climate change] one way or another,” Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine and the former head of US Central Command, wrote in a report he prepared as a member of a military advisory board. His report goes on to say that America can pay dollars today to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, or it will pay later through loss of life as the US faces more military conflicts through the political instability that climate change will cause.
So what? How does that affect us here in McHenry County? Why should we care?
Well, aside from concern about the impact to habitats and species, consider that McHenry County will have young people whose lives will be at risk in future military conflicts as nations fight over water and possibly land for their citizens. And, there is every reason to believe that the United States will continue its long tradition of welcoming refuges from throughout the world, and those people will need to have places to live. Population pressures in the US in the future will impact McHenry County, especially with our location within the Chicago metropolitan area.
I hope the next four years brings rational discussion in the US aimed at taking meaningful action to address climate change and to reduce the risks of future global instability that will result if nothing is done. Let’s not push this problem off onto a future generation.
We worked with a group of 9 volunteers the other day to plant 120 oak trees. While taking a mid-morning donut break, folks were talking about whether or not we should be planting species other than native oaks because of climate change. The concern was that as the climate warms, the more northern species will not fare as well as species that are found further south.
I explained that the species of oak most commonly found in McHenry County – white, bur, red, black and scarlet (or Hill’s) – occur throughout the State of Illinois. That’s right, one can find these same species of trees in the southernmost part of the state with a climate more similar to southern Missouri than northern Illinois.
A couple of folks also mentioned the summer drought, wondering how we could possibly water the 2-4 year-old seedlings enough if there is a drought next year.
Frankly, we couldn’t, and we won’t. The oaks are on their own, as trees have been for millennia. I pointed to ten young oaks that were planted just two years ago, noting that they were all doing fine despite no additional water during the recent drought.
Just imagine, oaks were thriving on every continent except Antarctica long before humans were much more than food for larger animals. I’m guessing they have a few tricks up their genetic sleeves.
As we resumed digging and planting, I looked over at a nearby bur oak that was close to 300 years old. It grows on the fence line between the planting site and the adjoining farm field. That tree was growing in that same location before the Declaration of Independence was signed. That oak survived a series of droughts in the 1930s (known as the Dust Bowl years) and a severe drought from 1954-56.
We’ll keep planting oaks.
In December 2010, I wrote an article about the coming of winter - "Slow down and take a cue from nature"
In it, I discussed the fact that in this part of the world, nature takes a break in the winter, and so should we.
Now that we have reached February 2012 with barely a week's worth of winter days thus far (not that I'm complaining, just observing), I find myself wondering what impact an unusually warm "winter" might have on nature & humans.
From what I've read, one warm winter may not have much impact, but several in a row will. And while those impacts may not be evident for many years, given that this warming during winter is a well established trend, the impacts are very real, and may be irreversible.