Letter from Birdland: We managed to weather 2012 changes

Letter from Birdland: We managed to weather 2012 changes

In Birdland, we were having a January thaw ... and then the temperatures dipped again. It got me wondering about our seasons.

The New York Times reports that 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States by a full degree. Another article noted that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov) has listed 11 disasters for 2012:

— Southeast/Ohio Valley tornadoes, March 2-3;

— Texas tornadoes, April 2-3;

— Great Plains tornadoes, April 13-14;

— Midwest/Ohio Valley severe weather, April 28 through May 1;

— Southern Plains/Midwest/Northeast severe weather, May 25-30;

— Rockies/Southwest severe weather, June 6-12;

— Plains/East/Northeast severe weather ("Derecho"), June 29 through July 2;

— Hurricane Isaac, Aug. 26-31;

— Western wildfires, summer and fall;

— Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 29-31;

— and U.S. drought/heat wave, throughout the year.

I hear there are still climate change doubters out there, and I find that strange and fascinating. I was talking to my friend, Paula, and she gave me a metaphor she heard on a program about climate change — about how delicate the human body is when it comes to regulation of temperature.

One degree doesn't sound like a lot when it comes to weather, but if we think of the Earth as an organism that needs to be in balance to be healthy (just like the human body), we might see how just one degree can be very important, indeed.

If we have an elevated temperature, say 99 or 100 degrees, we might feel like we're coming down with something. If it goes up to a true fever, say 101 or 102, we might stay home from work and go to bed. If it goes up higher than 103, we're in real trouble, and there's a point at which a fever can kill you.

In the Midwest last summer, we witnessed how devastating the combined elevated temperature and drought were to our crops, to our yards and to our water tables.

I know in Birdland, it almost seemed like we would never have a garden again. I was beginning to wonder if we would need to learn to live in a desert. If we had an endless supply of water, we might be able to irrigate, but even with irrigation, the rhythms and reproductive structures of plants don't work the same at high temperatures.

Even though I kept my tomatoes alive with watering, the tomatoes themselves didn't seem to ripen or produce much new fruit. It was like they suspended all activity with the heat (much like I did).

Last fall, after the drought ended, my aunts' apple tree bloomed. A fall blooming seems charming, and it was surely beautiful, especially after a barren summer, but that out-of-sequence blossoming has consequences for next spring. If the plant has shot out its essence in blooming at the wrong time, will it have the resources to send out blossoms again to call the bees this summer? Time will tell.

With the 50-degree weather last week, I shed my winter coat for a sweater and smiled as I walked out to feed the chickens. But while an elevated temperature is charming in January, this kind of unseasonable warmness in July could be devastating. And besides, the January thaw didn't last long, and soon we were back to bundling up. Climate change isn't as simple as warmer winters and hotter summers. With these fluctuating temperatures comes wilder weather, and we saw plenty of that in the past year.

Well, what can we do on the off chance that it's not too late to save the world? The EPA has a climate change page at http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/.

Read about the science behind the changes, including impacts on different regions in the U.S. and ideas about how we can help. They have a section on what measures we, as a people, can take to adapt to the coming changes and minimize the effects to our society and our land. For example, Chicago is promoting the use of green roofs, which add green space and plant life to the city, help filter rainwater and regulate temperature.

The website is comprehensive and educational, showing us what we can do in our communities and at home to address this crucial problem.

Plan in beauty; work for peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in ecology and balance in the world and in her own backyard. You can find links to these Web pages and others on her blog at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Hays can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com.

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