Half a dozen years ago, I posted a blog entry (“New Year’s Lettuce”) expressing wonder at the lettuce I was able to harvest that year from a local community garden in North Carolina on New Year’s Day. We’d had an unseasonably warm fall, so even frost-tender plants had survived until early January.
Climate change discussions were becoming more common then, partly because of some strange short-term weather patterns, partly due to a new global accord, the Paris Climate Agreement, that had been negotiated in late 2015. This accord was later signed by countries that produce over 90% of the world’s greenhouse gasses.
During the Trump presidency from 2017 to 2021, official U.S. policy downplayed the significance of climate change, withdrawing from the Paris Accord and reversing many measures intended to reduce or mitigate U.S. contributions to a global problem. We have now seesawed back toward policies taking the climate issue seriously, though American public opinion remains divided about what exactly the problem is or what to do about it.
Last year I relocated to the other side of the continental U.S., but I’ve once again found a nearby community garden. The climate here is quite different from North Carolina’s. Longer-term residents tell me that the dryness of our area is intensifying. While much of the U.S. Southeast and Caribbean currently are coping with catastrophic excesses of water from Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, the Southwest is dry as a bone. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, key components of the Southwest’s water and electricity generation systems, are below 30% of capacity and risk further declines.
Still, California’s climate is mild enough year-round so that, with adequate irrigation, multiple lettuce crops are possible. California produces about 70% of the U.S. lettuce crop, with Arizona providing much of the rest. My little plant is an infinitesimal part of California’s crop, an even tinier proportion of the roughly 28 million tons of lettuce-like crops produced globally each year.
I’m trying to get better at water conservation measures, to shelter my small plot of crop production from the worst impacts of heat and dryness. What will it take, on a much larger scale, for those of us who relish salads and fresh greens (including vast consumption in both China and India) to continue to have lettuce in all seasons?