What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

Spring Brings Tidings of Change

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This past weekend saw an atypical collision of spring holidays all landing right around the Spring Equinox itself — Eid, Holi, Easter, and Purim — all within four days of each other and the first day of spring. This perfect storm of holidays usually occurring weeks apart is exactly the opposite of the ecological changes and disruptions witnessed around the world due to climate change.

In fact, these changes are even noticeable from space! Global satellites that measure when land “turns green” found that spring “green-up” has been arriving eight hours earlier every year on average since 1982 in the north-eastern United State. These eight hours may seem like an average working day anyone can live without, but in biological systems, those eight hours add up…

“The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast,” according to Stanford University biologist Terry Root. The real problem as I see it is that the plants and animals aren’t listening to the same alarm clocks as they used to — so they’re all waking up at different times. While some plants and animals are heat-sensitive, such that the warmth that accompanies spring (thawing the winter ice, for example) causes the biological seasonal changes, others are photosensitive, such that they respond to increasing day length to trigger their responses to spring. And while the warmth is coming earlier, the tilt of the earth and patterns of light aren’t changing. So while the spring “green-up” may now be happening eight days earlier than it did in 1985, according to satellite data, the other spring changes may occur even earlier or at the usual times.

This is an even bigger problem because our biological lessons of the birds and the bees can tell us that it’s all about the timing. Many birds, for example, have hatched for hundreds of years on exactly the same day that a certain type of insect emerges en masse. This is a natural evolution of ecological balance; without predatorial control at the appropriate time, populations of prey may surge, and when the predators do arrive, they may well be too late. So when thermally sensitive organisms start shifting their biological cycles while photo-sensitive organisms don’t, this can mean some massive changes to ecological systems!

The past two days have been witness to large storms in Delhi — many month early monsoons — continuing to show that this Spring may bring with it more than just conjunctions of holidays, but climatic changes of a larger scale. Longer periods of rain and moisture can provide ideal conditions for breeding mosquitoes and other disease vectors. Shifting seasonal timings for rain can also further complicate the changing ecological balances.

Optimistically, though, Spring is an ideal time to reflect on a personal, local, national, and global level on how best to reduce our emissions and impact on these climatic and ecological shifts. So for better or worse, it IS definitely time for a change.

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Author: Caroline Howe

Caroline Howe explores how to get more people excited about sustainability, through education, new technology, financial tools, and community engagement. She's particularly passionate about engaging young people in developing community based solutions to environmental challenges. This has taken her to five continents, working with her start-up, Loop Solutions, as well as with NGOs, youth groups, companies, UN agencies, and a ton of fantastic youth leaders.

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