Goshen News, Goshen, IN

April 6, 2014

COLUMN: Scientists say climate to deteriorate faster than expected

By AARON SAWATSKY-KINGSLEY Columnist
Goshen News

---- — Bad news about climate change was reported early last week. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a 2,000-page report — based on 12,000 peer-reviewed, scientific studies — which said that the realities and risks which we face due to global warming are worse than originally thought.

Authors of the reports said, “Things are worse than predicted in 2007, and we are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we anticipated,” and that risk levels are now “very high” as compared to “high” in the 2007 report.

In northern Indiana we can feel somewhat insulated from this climate change talk. We’re insulated partly because of culture and largely because of geography. We’re far away from the ocean coasts, where some of the most immediate and dramatic global warming effects can be felt already. But as this new report suggests, we are not immune. Climate change modeling for Indiana suggests that extreme weather incidents will become increasingly frequent.

The reports goes on to say that climate change will exacerbate many of the problems that human society already faces, including poverty, disease, violence and displacement. It will “increase gaps between rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, men and women,” said one of the authors, Maarten van Aalst. That’s a pretty sobering prediction given that here in the United States we’ve already seen unprecedented consolidation of wealth over the past 20 years. I wonder how we will deal with further stratification.

And it’s not hard to imagine in a vague way how this might happen. People in coastal regions (about 44 percent globally, 39 percent in the United States) will need to move. They’ll leave secure homes and jobs, in hopes of finding new ones. At the same time, unpredictable weather could cause water shortages (as we’ve seen in the Southeast, and currently in California), and disrupt food production. Even minimal displacement and water and food shortage events can have a large ripple effect in our society.

Factor in the unknown change that a warming climate could produce in micro-ecosystems — bacteria, fungi, other microbes — and there is potential for new disease. The report points to this possibility as well.

Given that we already see how some smaller organisms adapt to and take advantage of global warming, like some plants (blooming earlier in the spring, growing farther and farther north), some insects (larger populations overwintering, colonizing farther north), and some birds (robins and geese overwintering), it’s not hard to imagine how even smaller, more adaptable micro-organisms might really benefit from warmer weather. Ironically, the same day the climate change report was released, I also heard a report about a new tick-borne disease — heartland virus — being watched closely in Missouri.

Though some adverse effects due to climate change are now unavoidable, the report says that there is still time to head off the worst scenarios. We don’t have to stay in a pot of warming water until it boils. We can hop out and turn the heat down. I get it that changing the way we live and do business and identify ourselves is scary. But we’re brave and compassionate people, capable of facing reality.

The season of Lent is the perfect time for this report to arrive. It’s the time of year when we think about mortality, sacrifice, self-denial and the miracle of renewed life. This is the time to challenge ourselves to do what we must for the sake of the earth-systems which sustain us, for the sake of plants and animals which we care about, for the sake of children whom we love.

Ride your bike or walk to work or to shop. If you can’t do that share a ride or take the bus. If you can’t do one of those, put more efficient light bulbs in your house. If you can’t do that, plant a tree near your house. Tree shade reduces the energy you use to keep your house cool. Trees preserve all important ground moisture, and protect the soil which we live on. Trees soak up carbon dioxide, a primary heat-trapping, green-house, global warming gas.

And if you can’t plant a tree at your house, come join other tree planting volunteers on Good Saturday, April 19, at Mill Street Park. We’ll plant 30 new trees between 9 am and noon. We’ll eat good food, and get to know each other. We’ll give something of ourselves and put hope into practice.

Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley is Goshen’s urban forester. He can be reached at aaronkingsley@maplenet.net or at 537-0986.