Tag Archives: climate change

Pizzlies and Grolars–Climate-Mediated Combinations?

Pizzlies and Grolars—Climate-Mediated Combinations?   –by Jinny Batterson

During the summer of 2017, I vacationed for two weeks in parts of Alaska. One of the naturalists who guided a bus tour I took in Denali National Park in central Alaska mentioned some new “hybrid” bears that are starting to show up in the far north of Alaska and Canada. As Arctic polar sea ice shrinks, the traditional ice floe habitat of polar bears is shrinking along with it. As temperatures in interior Alaska warm, some grizzlies are moving further north. One result is that the two sub-species of bears, who rarely encountered each other in the past, now have more overlap in their ranges. Sometimes they fight; at other times they interact in different ways. Offspring of polar-grizzly matings are called pizzly or grolar bears. Pizzlies and grolars typically have the coloring of polar bears, with the large head that is more characteristic of a grizzly. A picture of a pizzly that had been killed by a hunter was posted on a National Geographic site (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/12/photogalleries/101215-pizzly-grolar-bear-polar-grizzly-hybrids-nature-arctic-global-warming-pictures/) in 2010.  Only a few of the hybrid bears have been encountered so far, but biologists expect that more matings will likely occur as climate change accelerates. Perhaps, as our planet continues to warm, there may someday be pizzlies and grolars as far south as Denali park. 

My direct knowledge of Alaska’s longer-term weather is nil. However, a friend in Fairbanks who has spent most of his adult life in the now-less-frozen north, told me that the previous year’s winter was exceptionally mild—with overall temperatures about 6 degrees Fahrenheit about average. His back yard developed a lawn-chair sized sinkhole when part of its permafrost melted. Statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a U.S. governmental weather agency, bear out that the entire year 2016 was of record-breaking warmth in all reporting stations of our northernmost state (https://www.climate.gov/news-features/features/2016-shatters-record-alaskas-warmest-year). Climate change in Alaska has been more rapid than in the lower forty-eight states. 

About three years ago, I participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City. For me, part of the event’s inspiration came from seeing so many people of so many different backgrounds engaged in demonstrating for the good of our planet. Even more inspiring to me was the interfaith service held the evening after the march at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Many of the speakers at the service came from areas already experiencing disruptions due to climate change— more intense downpours, longer droughts, stronger typhoons and hurricanes, sea level rise.

The indigenous elders who participated in the service were alarmed and dismayed at the damage we are doing to our planet (the environment that sustains the lives of all species, including humans), but they were not without hope. At the conclusion of an interfaith conference that ran concurrently with the march and its preparations, they issued a call to action:     

“Know that you yourself are essential to this World. Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. We must sacrifice and move beyond our own comforts and pleasures. We must stop the damaging activities and begin working on restoring the natural environment for the future of All Life.”

The year 2017 has had its share of weather extremes in U.S. states and territories: inhabitants of Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and northern California have now experienced firsthand some of the effects of human-induced climate change. We will all need to adapt. The interbreeding option available to polar bears and grizzlies is not in our future—we have become too differentiated from other animals for that. What can be in our future, if we choose, is increasing cooperation across cultures and religions to reduce our damage to our Earth, and to start to help heal her and ourselves.

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An Ounce of Prevention

An Ounce of Prevention   —by Jinny Batterson

A proverb that was often quoted to me during my teen years has come back to haunt me lately: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Parts of our state are still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Dozens of people have been killed in North Carolina in the flooding that followed the hurricane. Rivers are just starting to go down. Surplus waters pool and eventually flow toward the Atlantic. Several major rivers are still above flood stage, and there’s a possibility of more flood-related fatalities when receding waters uncover submerged vehicles. Some people have had to be evacuated twice, leaving their homes for hotels and other shelters that in turn became flooded. We’ve seen (when our electricity is working) television and Internet footage of tractor trailer trucks floating in several feet of water, of horses submerged up to the neck being led beside inflatable boats to reach higher ground. Major interstates crossing our region have been flooded out, causing lengthy disruptions in travel, or worse. I’m not suggesting that we can prevent hurricanes; I do want to suggest that we will need better preparations to reduce the impact of future storms.    

The October 2016 floods in the U.S. Southeast come on the heels of equally horrendous flooding in the area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana in August, when up to two feet of rainfall inundated the vicinity over the course of two days of a “thousand year flood.” By mid-October, clean-up crews had removed over a million and a half cubic yards of debris from the flooded area. That’s a lot of ounces.

Much of California has been impacted by five years of severe drought.

It’s getting harder to deny that our climate is changing. According to a 2014 report vetted by over 300 scientists, “Over the last 50 years, much of the U.S. has seen increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, and in some regions, severe floods and droughts.” Just before the Hurricane Matthew floods, I  watched an interview with a spokesman for Conservation International, Dr. M. Sanjayan, who described a series of narrated short films about the relationship between nature and humanity. He played a two minute clip voiced by Julia Roberts, part of a series at NatureIsSpeaking.org. Over a backdrop of some of the earth’s natural wonders, Roberts intoned: “Some call me nature, others call me Mother Nature. I’ve been here for over four and a half billion years, 22,500 times longer than you. I don’t really need people, but people need me…”

Not all of us have as high a profile as the media stars in the Nature Is Speaking videos. Not all of us can persuasively argue for the public policy changes needed to slow, though not stop, many harmful effects of our changing climate. But each of us breathes and eats, sleeps and wakes, uses part of the earth’s resources. We can exercise our ounce of prevention. We can be more active in pursuing the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. We can vet our purchases for environmental impact and make wiser choices. We can act individually and/or join with neighbors to retrofit existing properties and communities to be more environmentally friendly, wherever we live. We can participate in litter pick-ups and stream clean-ups to reduce the amount of trash going into our oceans. We can become informed, and keep up with the latest climate and weather warnings.

Ms. Roberts ends her narration with a challenge and a question:  “How you choose to live each day, whether you regard or disregard me doesn’t really matter to me. One way or the other, your actions will determine your fate, not mine. I am nature. I will go on. I am prepared to evolve.  Are you?” 

New Year’s Lettuce

New Year’s Lettuce     —by Jinny Batterson

Last month’s weather was much milder and rainier than is typical for the part of the U.S. East Coast where I live. Usually by January, the surface of the ground has frozen several times, and any plant without a lot of frost-hardiness has succumbed to the cold. Its remains have either been spaded under or relegated to the compost heap.  Not so this year.  Yesterday morning, New Year’s Day, I visited my local community garden and picked several salads’ worth of still-thriving lettuce, arugula, beet greens, and spinach.  Fortunately, the kale, mustard and collard greens that can withstand nippier weather had taken our December heat wave in stride. I picked some of them, too. 

In December, 2015, our local area had high temperatures well above average for 26 of  31 days. Although no new temperature records were set, existing record highs got tied six times. On 15 different days, it rained a measurable amount. Our December precipitation total was about 6 inches, over twice the norm. The 2015 total precipitation was about 57 inches, nearly 15% above normal.

Many years ago, when global climate change was a somewhat arcane topic, a meteorologist friend explained to me the difference between weather and climate. “Weather” describes short-term phenomena like an extra-warm December, an exceptionally strong hurricane, a freak snowstorm. “Climate” tracks longer-term changes, covering decades, centuries, millennia, even geological epochs.  So I don’t know whether last month’s unusual weather was necessarily linked with climate change—the coincidence between the onset of our sub-tropical fortnight and the signing of the latest global climate accord in Paris could have been just that: coincidence.  Nonetheless, the happenstance has gotten me wondering what further climate change preparations I can make as an individual and as an activist. How can I better adjust to whatever longer-term climate changes are likely to be irreversible?  How can I help frame better policies to help mitigate the changes still susceptible to concerted human action?   

The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture maps of plant hardiness zones, issued in 2012,   are on average half a zone warmer than the previous set of maps, issued in 1990. Advances in information retrieval and in data mapping since the previous maps have made it possible to note much finer local variations in climate than was previously true.  Very small temperature gradients can make the difference between New Year’s lettuce and New Year’s dead plants. Gardening practices that buffer temperature and rainfall extremes can both lengthen the growing season and maintain healthier plants throughout it.

I’m not great on New Year’s resolutions, having lived enough years to know that mine tend to peter out in late January. Still, since gardening is for me more pleasure than chore, this year a garden-related resolution is one I may be able to keep: Maybe I can learn more about lettuces and some “new to me” plants that I may be able to grow with a bit of tending as our global climate gets on average warmer, but more erratic. For 2016, I’ll research and plant small quantities of a larger variety of  vegetables and herbs. I’ll pay closer attention to the weather, doing my best to provide shelter, seedling to harvest, from extremes of heat, cold, flood, and drought.

Perhaps lettuce and gardening provide germs of a couple of more general resolutions worth adopting:

1) Let us, those of us who play with words,  resolve to use fewer bad puns in our 2016 blog posts.

2) Let us, all of us, also resolve to nurture at least one living thing with more care than last year, be it ourselves, a child, a tree, a windowsill herb, or this complex, varied, ever-changing planet we live on.

Voting with Our Feet (and other essential body parts)

Voting with Our Feet (and other essential body parts)   —by Jinny Batterson

Recent retirees like me get a lot of health-related information—mailers, email reminders, targeted Internet advertising.  Fairly often, these messages tout the benefits of regular exercise. Walking gets mentioned a lot—helps our circulation, requires little special equipment, can be done anywhere, anytime. So, even in the heat of summer, I try to keep up a regular walking routine. Over the past several seasons, I’ve been doing a good bit of more targeted walking, too, participating in protest marches and fundraisers for causes I think are important.  One of those is global climate change; another is voting.

Last September, I joined hundreds of thousands in New York City to draw global attention both to the problems we’re creating with our profligate use of fossil fuels and to possible alternatives, including the low-tech, available-to-nearly-everyone switch to walking more and using our vehicles less. I got a walker’s high moving along with the varied and huge crowd around me, most in comfortable shoes, some with banners, others with slogans on their clothing, some coasting beside us on skates or bicycles, a few in wheelchairs.

This past week, I joined a smaller, more localized crowd in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to draw attention to the start of a federal court case considering the constitutionality of several restrictive 2013 changes in my home state’s voting laws. The weather was sultry—July in North Carolina can wilt even the most stalwart. However, organizers had ordered thousands of bottles of cool water, and we guzzled it down as we listened to speeches and songs before taking to the streets. We wanted to help reinforce the message that the U.S. Constitution has been repeatedly amended to expand, rather than constrict, the franchise. The 15th amendment gave the vote to male former slaves; the 19th enfranchised women; the 26th, ratified in 1971, reduced the voting age from 21 to 18, giving the ballot to 18 to 20 year olds, including young men subject to military conscription.

I’m most grateful that my tramps have so far been voluntary. Nowadays, a huge number of people are walking for more distressing reasons—the number of international refugees and internally displaced persons has reached a level not seen since World War II. In 2014, nearly 60 million people, about 1 in every 125, were in refugee camps or temporary shelters due to wars and ethnic conflicts around the globe. When armed conflict breaks out, many vote with their feet just to survive.

In Isabel Wilkerson’s 2011 award-winning saga, The Warmth of Other Suns, I read that nearly 6 million African-Americans voted with their feet during the period between 1915 and 1970. These participants in the “great migration” left the Jim Crow south for points north and west, pushed out by fear and discrimination, and/or pulled away by the lure of better opportunities and less blatant oppression.

During my lifetime so far, I have not been forced to vote with my feet because of wars or oppression. However, voting with a ballot is a right I no longer take for granted. Recent quantum leaps in the sophistication and prevalence of gerrymandering make it more difficult for me to cast a meaningful vote, as do both subtle and more blatant attempts at voter suppression. Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have made “voting with money” more prevalent, an emphasis I find distressing. The problem has gotten too big for any single citizen, candidate or political party to solve on its own.

At the New York City march, some carried placards proclaiming: “There is no Planet B.”  On a less global level, I wonder, if we destroy our country’s democracy, what “plan B’s” await us? Our union has become considerably less perfect over the past decade or so. Perhaps we can reverse the trend—some of us may have to vote repeatedly with our feet in protest marches. We’ll also need to engage our heads, our hearts, our hands, having serious debates about vital issues, registering and voting, resisting demagoguery and pat answers, listening to each other, working together. Let’s keep walking…