February 2018: Climate Change: What we can do about it

~by Virginia Rhys-Anson, OFS

Climate Change. Yes, it is real. Just ask a polar bear who has her snow and ice cover melting back earlier and earlier, making hunting—and eating—much more laborious. No longer can we stick our heads in the sand and pretend that it does not exist or that it is all Ma Nature’s doing and she will correct it.

Like it or not, human activity is contributor to our warming crisis—nature and wildlife the unfortunate victims. Nay, not only them, but we humans could become our own shortsighted victims.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Age, the earth has warmed at a much faster rate than ever before in her vastly long history. Coincidence? How can it be? Simple logic speaks to the contrary.

Due to climate changes, flora and fauna species are dwindling, some to extinction. It is estimated that Earth is on the verge of a sixth mass extinction. This one, however, is not nature caused, as was the mass extinction that took out the dinosaurs. This one most likely will be human caused, a fact that is reprehensible—and reversible.

Our mis- and overuse of fossil fuels—emitting carbon-based pollution into the air—is the major cause of a warming trend that sees the polar ice caps receding earlier and earlier, that has seen a fifth of Western U.S. wildflower species disappearing, that is a major threat to our wildlife.

Proof of this climate change is quite easy to detect. Spring comes a decent bit earlier. Forest phlox and butterfly weed in Wisconsin bloom an average of 18 days earlier, columbine 13 days. Washington D.C’s. cherry blossoms peak from their winter hibernation about 7 days earlier along with, according to a Smithsonian 30-year study, 89 to 100 other plant species that bloom an average of 4.5 days earlier. All due to warmer temperatures.

Insect and some bird species appear to be migrating north earlier or merely moving their winter habitats farther north. Of 23 of California’s butterfly species, 70% fly about 24 days sooner. The rufous hummingbirds, once a winter treat in Mexico, are more and more being seen in the states around the Gulf Coast. Once abiding in Cuba and the Bahamas, 5 tropical dragonfly species packed up and moved north to Florida.

Admittedly, earlier springs are quite pleasant after a long, dreary, cold winter of cabin fever. It is a treat to gaze upon insect species that we have never observed before. I must admit that I do enjoy such a turn of events. However miniscule this trend may seem, it doesn’t, in the long run, bode well for nature, her wildlife, and the human species. Intense storms and drought conditions are likely in the offing should this trend continue.

The estimated 4 to 11 degree increase in average temperature by the end of the twentieth century—this according to a February 2007 project conducted by international climate scientists—will affect our gardens as well. Gardeners are noticing that their flowers are blooming earlier and that they are seeing butterfly visitors earlier. Others are noticing bird species that they have never seen before. Gardeners may also be plagued with pests and weeds that thrive in the heat and/or drought conditions. Invasive plant species are more likely to be an increased bane to gardeners as global warming persists.

Obviously, humanity must reduce carbon pollution for the sake of our earth and future generations. We cannot continue ignoring and rationalizing the reality. Reducing our carbon footprint is paramount.

Yes, considering the immensity of the problem, our individual efforts will seem like baby steps, like mere drops in the proverbial bucket. But baby steps lead to miles and drops add up to a full bucket.

Many of the steps we can take are quite familiar: lower the house and water heater temperatures, ensure that the home’s insulation is rated between R-30 and R-44, purchase produce locally grown, swap out your incandescent bulbs for fluorescent or LED bulbs, purchase energy efficient appliances and vehicles, carpool or take public transportation when possible, recycle.

Homeowners and gardeners can, likewise, take esthetic measures to cool our climate. Plant a tree—or two or three. Planting trees native to your area is always preferable. Trees take in carbon dioxide, thus reducing carbon in the environment. They also create habitat for birds, squirrels, insects, and other species.

Gardeners are in a privileged position to help reverse global warming. They can start by removing invasive plant species from gardens and yards. It is wise, as with the tree selection, to opt for native plants. Native plants help to inhibit further growth of invasives.

As much as is practical, limit the use of water. Global warming increases the risk of drought conditions and reduced snow pack, thus increasing the necessity for and frugality of water conservation. Life on Earth cannot exist without water. Earth’s water reserves can be spared by mulching, using rain barrels, and installing a drip system. However, if and when a garden simply must be watered, it is best to do so either in the morning or evening. The mid-day temperatures and sun will evaporate any water that one gives to your thirsty plants.

Composting can reduce the carbon footprint as well. Using garden and kitchen waste as fertilizer reduces methane, a contributor to global warming. Additionally, by using compost instead of chemical fertilizers, a homeowner is not risking contamination of our water sources.

The placement of trees can be significant in reducing energy consumption. Planting deciduous trees near the house adds shade in the summer when the trees are leafed out, thus cooling the house and reducing the need for air conditioning, perhaps by as much as 70%. Conversely, a leafless tree in the winter allows more warming sunlight into the house, thus reducing the need to run the furnace. Trees, also, as is common knowledge, absorb carbon dioxide the main culprit in global warming.

Gasoline powered yard grooming equipment add to the consumption of fossil fuels, thus adding to the warming dilemma. A couple of solutions here. Consider replacing part or your grassy carpet with a native pollinator garden. Secondly, when it is time to replace the lawn mower, weed wacker, edge trimmer, and so on and on, consider electric-powered alternatives, or, if the yard is small enough to not be daunting, perhaps human-powered equipment.

Lastly, a step we can all take. Email your congress persons and the president periodically to tactfully encourage them to make decisions that will enhance the quality of our environment and, thus, our lives and the lives of wildlife. They can easily be found at: senate.gov, house.gov, and whitehouse.gov.

Yes, climate change is real. Yes, a contributing cause is human induced. Yes, there is still time for humanity to reverse the damage we have done and prevent further decline. But we must act soon and quickly.


Virginia Anson grew up in the shadows of Sandia Crest in New Mexico. Family camping trips may have sparked her passion for nature. She holds an A.S. in Electronics Technology, a B.A. in Writing, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and a certificate in Wildlife/Forestry Conservation. Her book, Mother Earth’s Caretakers, targets middle school youngsters and is published as an e-book for Kindle. Virginia is a Vietnam Era veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and her volunteer endeavors see her as a lector, Eucharistic minister, and sacristan in her parish and as a habitat steward for the National Wildlife Federation. She especially cherishes her life in the Secular Franciscan Order, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.


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