Tag Archives: global climate change

The Light is Starting to Come Back

The Light is Starting to Come Back   —by Jinny Batterson

So far, 2017 has not been my favorite year. I’ve been fortunate to have had generally good health, good friends, good weather, and adequate finances, but I cannot say the same about the wider world. Hunger and disease have decimated our most vulnerable human populations, while many other species suffer from man-made changes over which they have little control. Our American political culture has mostly continued to turn away from civility and dialogue toward further name-calling, dissension, and gridlock. Economic disparity grows unchecked. It remains to be seen whether a recently enacted U.S. tax reform plan will provide relief for those less well off. Catastrophic storms and weather events have become more common and more deadly. Globally, tensions in multiple regions have produced lethal violence.

So as a somewhat bleak December drew toward its close amid tidings of discomfort and malcontent, I marked the times of sunrise and sunset on December 21, the winter solstice, more carefully than usual: where I live, our nourishing star made its grand entry that day at about 7:22 a.m., and exited around 5:05 p.m.  On Christmas Eve, the sun rose at about 7:23, and set near 5:07 p.m. The shape of our days changes as the sun returns—it takes a while after the solstice before sunrise starts to get earlier. The first inkling of longer days comes in later sunsets. Detailed charts show a December 24th day length a scant eight seconds longer than at its minimum, but the rate of increase accelerates day by day until around the spring equinox in late March, when each day is over two minutes longer than the day before.

Our civic culture, if it is to recover, will not right itself immediately. Underlying diseases of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and all our other “isms” will not diminish or disappear without ongoing effort. Needed changes will require shifts in both personal attitudes and public policy. Still, just as the physical light is strengthening, I see a few first glimmers that our civic light level may also be on the rise. Participation rates in recent state, municipal, and special elections have increased. Women and other minorities who’ve previously suffered in silence are finding the courage to speak out about abusive behavior. Charitable giving has bumped up. Like the lengthening of days, societal changes often start at the “bottom” or sunset, rather than at the “top” or sunrise. A warm smile to a neighbor, a small kindness to a stranger, an hour or two spent volunteering at a homeless shelter, are not as likely to be highly publicized as our current chief executive’s sneers and slurs. They are just as important, or more so, to our society’s health.

At the beginning of 2017, I participated in our local edition of the global women’s march. Rather than spout vitriol about the 2016 election outcome, I tried to look forward. I crafted a sign to help inspire others, and also to remind myself of what I found most important, a three-pronged plan for action:
–adapt to climate change
–support voting rights
–practice kindness
In smaller letters at the bottom of the sign, I added a postscript: “Make Trump irrelevant.” 

I’m not sure what follow-ups will occur in 2018 to the shifts begun this year. I have to believe that the light is starting to come back.

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.

A Changing Global Climate–P.R.C., U.S.A., and “Blenders”

A Changing Global Climate—P.R.C., U.S.A., and “Blenders” 

                                    —by Jinny Batterson

“Adam,” as I’ll call him, is a very cute little boy. He is part of an accelerating trend. His father is American; his mother is Chinese. Although he’s only three or so, several times he’s already shuttled back and forth between the two countries. Before he gets to be school age, he’s likely to be fluent in at least two languages, perhaps more. All four of his grandparents adore him. He is neither entirely Chinese nor entirely American—he’s some of both.

No one knows for sure how many multi-cultural, multi-ethnic children there are in the world, but they now number many millions, perhaps close to a billion. In addition, our planet has increasing numbers of “third culture kids,”  children whose parents, both from a single national or ethnic background, have relocated for long stretches of time to other countries and cultures to study or work. They’ve taken their children with them. These children grow up belonging neither entirely to their parents’ original culture nor to the cultures in which they’ve spent much of their childhoods. They’re at home everywhere and nowhere.

Immigration rules and patterns, economic globalization, more accessible international travel, disruptions due to wars or climate change, all have increased the chances that the next global generation will be among the most “mixed” ever. One 2011 study estimated that worldwide there are now more multilingual children than monolingual ones. International migrants, if taken as a group, would form the fifth largest population on the planet.

I’m not multi-cultural, nor even “third culture,” though I’ve spent over half a decade of my adulthood living or traveling outside the U.S. I love the United States, the country of my birth and citizenship, despite its faults. The longest intervals of my overseas time have been spent in the People’s Republic of China. I’ve come to love China, too, despite its faults. Its peoples, its landscapes, its many vibrant cultures continue to fascinate me.

The decade when I spent the most time in China (2002-2012) saw some of the fastest economic growth in its history and the lifting of hundreds of millions of its citizens from poverty into the middle class. The same period also saw an accelerating decline in the health of China’s natural environment. China’s air pollution is estimated to cause over a million premature deaths per year. Another looming challenge is the rapid aging of China’s population. Part of what drives this “graying” of China has been its “one child” policy, which slowed population growth for over a generation by limiting most urban families to a single offspring. This one child generation, now mostly young adults,  is skewed toward males.  China now has a shortage of young women of marriageable age. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, many Chinese female infants and young girls were put up for adoption into Western families so families could try again for a son in this historically patriarchal culture.

As if these challenges were not enough, the proportion of multi-generational families that have long been a backbone of Chinese society is also declining. More working age Chinese are abandoning the countryside for better jobs in the cities, leaving grandparents and young children behind.

Of course, China is not the only country with problems. Watching television or Internet news in the U.S. is a near continuous reminder of problems and challenges within my home country.  Pointing out China’s challenges is somewhat akin to the Biblical parable of noticing the speck of sawdust in my brother’s eye while ignoring the log in my own.

As our human numbers and appetites increase, our entire species is becoming more of a threat to ourselves and to our planet.   The “Adam”s of the next generation, whatever their national origins, will have to face daunting challenges if  human populations are to survive: developing better ways to reconcile competing natural resource claims while avoiding catastrophic environmental harm. Those of us already grown, however much we try to resist change, will need to shift some of our habits of thought and behavior.

When relations between the land of my birth and the land of my most extensive travels deteriorate or are in crisis, I can sometimes feel as if I’m a child caught up in a difficult divorce. It can be hard to remember that both “parents,” the U.S.A. and the P.R.C., are worthwhile and special, each in their own way.  While I understand that they will never agree on everything,  I have to hope that, for the sake of all children, they can learn to be better stewards of their disagreements.  They need to be able to work together to help humans like me, but especially young people like Adam, survive and thrive in a world whose global climate does not recognize man-made boundaries.