The Earth’s Evolving Climate — A Time to adapt.
By Joanna Pollock
The Climate is changing regardless of politics, the economy or public opinion. The earth does not care if we do not have a worldview big enough to contain her changing climate.
But the truth is that not only do scientists have consensus, but most Americans believe the earth’s climate is changing and that it is caused by human behavior. Most faith groups now accept anthropogenic climate change and are taking an active role in mitigating its effects on future generations as a moral imperative. Baptists, who make up 17% of Americans, are not all in agreement, but The Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change of 2008 states “We have recently engaged in study, reflection and prayer related to the challenges presented by environmental and climate change issues…some of us have required considerable convincing…now we have seen and heard enough to be persuaded that these issues are among the current era’s challenges that require a unified moral voice.”
Last March a Yale/George Mason University poll revealed little difference between Independents and Democrats when asked if the issue of climate change influenced their vote for President (58 percent and 63 percent respectively) and 43 percent of Republicans. Sixty percent of polled voters of the presidential election indicated they believed climate change made hurricane Sandy worse. Many more Americans are starting to realize that what climate scientists have been saying for decades is true because they recognize the increased frequency of extreme weather events.
Donna Davis, a Ph.D. candidate in the UofA Environmental Dynamics program studying the implications of climate change on the Marshallese population and Northwest Arkansas puts it this way, “The climate doesn’t care whether you think global warming is caused by human activity or not. The fact of the matter is, temperatures are rising at an unprecedented rate and there are people on the globe feeling real consequences now. Some debate the science, but many around the world are actively working to increase their resilience and adaptive capacities. For some countries like the low-lying Marshall Islands, global warming is increasing devastating flooding, coastal erosion and threats to the fresh water supplies. These pressures may make migration off the islands the final adaptation as sea-level rise threatens to inundate their entire country.”
Davis believes that if the Marshallese people do become climate refugees, they will likely come to Northwest Arkansas since the second largest population of Marshallese people already live here.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) records, the global average temperature has increased over 1.4°F in just the last century and the decade from 2000 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record with two of the years in that decade being the hottest years on record.
We are all feeling it. Any of us that have lived longer than 15 years can anecdotally remember seasons being different right here in Arkansas. I can remember listening to my grandmother and great-aunt talk about “how much the weather and seasons have changed in Arkansas since when they was little.” They smelled the flowers blooming earlier, heard intense rains more often and felt the scorching rays of the longer, hotter summer, all while out doing their traditional yard work and gardening. They also spoke of ice skating on ponds in the winter and said there hasn’t been ice that thick in years. If we pay attention to the outdoor world, then you feel the change of weather trends and seasons and as our food supply begins to reflect a necessary adaptation, you may even begin to taste it.
Are we adapted for a climate that has not only changed, but does so rapidly?
The Author of Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming, Anthony D. Barnosky says “The problem is that global warming is essentially off the scale of normal in two ways: the rate at which this climate change is taking place and how different the ‘new’ climate is compared to what came before.”
A quick search in the online resource, Public Library of Science, shows that climate adaptation and resilience strategies are already well underway by people, highly informed organizations and governments throughout the world. The EPA defines adaptation as “efforts by society or ecosystems to prepare for or adjust to future climate change,” and lists key areas of adaptation as agriculture and food supply, coasts, ecosystems, energy, human health and water resources.
People everywhere are planning their resilience strategies and assisting others with doing the same. In a paper presented eleven years ago at a meeting on adaptation to climate change and sustainable development, Dr. R.J.T. Klein, a leading expert on climate change adaptation and professor at the Stockholm Environment Institute, defined resilience as “The amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain within the same state and the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization.”
How resilient will our Arkansas communities be?
A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture released in February details the strain climate change is on agriculture and stresses the need for adaptation due to extreme precipitation events, heavier, longer rains and flooding rivers, as well as, crop pests and disease that thrive in the warmer temperatures. A report from the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research projects that the Southeastern states will likely be some of the hardest hit by climate change.
In a recent article in the online journal Arkansas Business, titled Arkansas Farmers Face New Changes with Climate Change, a spokesman for the Arkansas Farm Bureau [Steve Eddington] admits that Arkansas farmers are concerned. “It’s certainly a topic that people are talking about. And I’m using ‘climate change’ as broadly as can be, relative to the drought. Or the heavy, heavy rains we had a year and a half ago, too,” says Eddington. According to research from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Arkansas farmers are not unlike other Southern farmers because while they acknowledge seeing evidence of climate change in their daily lives as agriculturalists, they are still reluctant to acknowledge that it is caused by humans. They do agree however that the biggest threat to Arkansas agriculture and food production is reliable access to sufficient water and most of us are aware of the drought.
Celebrate the Earth!
As we celebrate our planet this month, I am strangely reminded of the words of George Carlin when he said “The planet will be here for a long, long, long time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself; it will cleanse itself, because that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system.” As human communities we have to mitigate climate change and adapt to the change that is already in store. To reduce our own suffering and that of our neighbors, resilience planning seems the wise and compassionate choice. The city of Fayetteville has made strides in these areas by partnering with the Illinois River Watershed on rain garden projects, continuing to expand trails and currently has plans to advance walkable community design to West Fayetteville and near all primary schools and is developing an urban agricultural ordinance to support the expansion of local food production. The Director of Sustainability & Strategic Planning for the city of Fayetteville, Peter Nierengarten, shared some insight for this story, “Community resiliency strategies such as local food production, transportation options, rainwater harvesting, emergency preparedness, etc. are highly effective at reducing our exposure to the vulnerabilities created by the dual threats of climate change and peak oil.”