Monday, February 21, 2011

Climate change, and an early spring

The sneezes have been coming for a week.  Not so bad for me, because I’m mildly but not extremely allergic.  But all the pollen sufferers in Vancouver have probably started pulling out their handkerchiefs, with the germ-phobic (pointlessly) edging away from them on the buses. 

We are sufficiently north here to feel climate change a little stronger than down south, which means that winter is starting more and more to resemble fall and spring here.  That sometimes fools the vegetation into coming alive a little early.  Hence, the allergies and the sneezing.

Of course, we’re here in the city so it doesn’t really matter, but an early spring is not so harmless in the countryside.  The countryside is ecological.  Things depend on each other.  Things interact.  And interactions require not only geographic proximity but timing as well. 

An early spring messes up timing because not all parts of the environment are reacting to the same signals.  The flowers have reported to work but the bees are still on vacation.  By the time the bees show up the flowers and all their pollen have blown away in a spring breeze.  Plants don’t get pollinated and fruit doesn’t grow.

In which case it doesn’t matter at all if there’s a longer growing season.

While the climate is changing and readjusting—which it will continue to do while our civilization continues to toss carbon into the atmosphere—we can expect more of these mixed signals in nature, and we can expect the ecology to suffer because of it.  And when the ecology suffers, our human economies suffer as well.

The climate won’t stop adjusting until we stop messing with it.  And while it’s adjusting we can expect a lot of systems to be out of kilter, not working the way we want or expect them to. 

From now on, if we don’t make some necessary changes in our lifestyles, our carbon output, our forestry practices, and our relationship with the environment, if we don’t do things as simple as climbing out of our cars and into buses, then we’re going to spend a lot of time as a civilization dealing with systems that have gone out of kilter.

We won’t like it.

So climate change, it’s more than just sneezing.

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