It is mid-January and the Kenai River has opened. I’m wondering whether the tiny salmon, with the egg sac still hanging from their bellies will emerge, too early, from the gravel bars upriver. People tell me their lilacs are preparing to unwrap the leaves and blossom buds they set last fall. Peony plants are dying in the field because of constant freeze/thaw. Sled dog races are at risk because of slush.
Sadly, it is not yet spring. People new to the area ask, “Is this normal for this time of year?” Of course it isn’t. The old normal is gone. Fifty years ago, January often brought a Chinook wind to bring us briefly out of a stretch of -35 degree weather. But we never had days of heavy rain and temps pushing 50 degrees. The river remained frozen in the cold and quiet of midwinter. Now changes in the powerful jet stream push our winter weather south to fruit orchards ill-prepared for it. Some scientists believe that this ‘arctic oscillation’ is triggered by the dramatic loss of ice in the Arctic Ocean.
Like you, I read a newspaper in an effort to better understand my world. I am willing to believe the scientific consensus about our changing weather because I have lived in this place long enough to observe the changes that were predicted years ago. Ice core samples note the beginning of human influence on climate 150 years ago as we learned to burn coal to power our factories and trains. We recently passed the 350 ppm carbon dioxide ‘comfort zone’ for our planet, yet we continue to release huge quantities of CO2 into the ever-warming atmosphere with few plans for mitigation or adaptation.
I am concerned about the effect of the continued burning of fossil fuels on ocean acidification. This change in chemistry may interrupt the food chain by thinning the shells of our seafood. It may cause the loss of some of the phytoplankton that feed our salmon. Sea level rise by the end of this century is predicted to be at least 3 feet, depending on how quickly the Greenland ice sheet and other glaciers melt. Great portions of lowland countries like Bangladesh and many South Sea Islands are predicted to disappear beneath the sea. Wealthy countries will have to decide which coastal areas to abandon and which cities to perpetually pour treasure into saving.
There will be social disruption as people migrate in search of food and shelter. There will be more droughts, more high winds and tornadoes, heavier rains and more flooding. Crops will be endangered. Many of these changes are gradual and have gone unnoticed. But it turns out that we have been messing with Mother Nature for decades. Now we must not blame her for our human-caused changes.
I grieve the loss of the planet I once knew. I grieve for my grandchildren, who must adapt to a more difficult world. At the same time, I refuse to accept this inevitability. I feel a moral obligation to the future citizens of this small planet. Clearly, many of our politicians are in denial about climate change. Others are afraid to speak. But I know there are a growing number of citizens who believe the international scientific consensus. I know many of us work to shrink our personal carbon footprint. I know we can learn from each other and brainstorm ways to work together in community to lessen the carbon burden we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.
I invite you to meet at River City Books on Saturday, February 1 at 6:30 p.m. Come share your personal stories of success and your ideas. We can begin to plan what we might accomplish together.