The Ticking Clock

A bonus feature from my October column “Understand Science and Believe in Action

Steve Hamburg is delighted to talk about backyards. EDF’s chief scientist pulls out a chart covered with the harvest notes of a maple syrup farmer in New Hampshire; he has been keeping detailed records since 1959. “These notes are a treasure,” he says. “We’re organizing an exhibit about how global warming will affect people locally, where they live, and this will be part of it.”

“This farmer didn’t think his trees had been affected by a change in climate,” he says. “He couldn’t see the pattern because he was distracted by all the noise—the annual details of weather, snowfall, production. We analyzed his production numbers and what we saw quite clearly was that by 2003 he is producing syrup much earlier in the season, a product of operating with one month less of snow cover every year. He’s still getting lots of syrup, but only because his technology is much better now. The sap isn’t running at peak for as long as it used to. He’s getting less productive time, later in the spring. And pretty soon the maples won’t have enough cold weather to produce much of anything at all.”

You can look at a map of sugar maple trees and see that they are marching northward; it is a matter of time before maple syrup becomes exclusively a Canadian export. “And after Canada? Eventually, there is nowhere to go.” The same is true for blueberries and cranberries; it is hard to imagine New England without the brilliant fall colors that all these plants provide. Lobster ranges are changing; spruce is declining. “I never used to see ticks at my cabin in New Hampshire,” Hamburg says. “Now we’re crawling with them.”

The exhibit Hamburg is organizing, with funding from EDF and the National Science Foundation, will address climate change in the northeast, and will open in November at the Ecoterium in Worcester, Mass. Next there will be a traveling exhibit in North Carolina and hopefully exhibits on the local effects of climate change for the rest of the U.S. as well.

What You Can Do

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4 Responses

Comment from RayC
October 5th, 2009 at 3:31 pm

It does seem that the climate is changing and it is not in the direction that we want, BUT I don’t agree that the number of people and how we treat the planet is the major cause of the global problem. It certainly is a part of the change, but how much? Perhaps there are causes going on that we are not considering – the Earth has gone through many changes in the past — with out the help of mankind.

Comment from Lauren
October 5th, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Arguing about who is causing global warming is like children trying to convince an adult that what ever is broken wasn’t broken by them. Are we children? It doesn’t matter who or what is causing global warming. While we argue over blame, the situation deteriorates. Are we going to do nothing but point fingers and suffer the consequences? Or are we going to do WHATEVER we can to avert the worst effects of climate change?

Comment from EJ Green
October 6th, 2009 at 10:27 am

I was born at the beginning of the sixties. I grew up without much of the technology that is now available. That certainly limited my ability to see everything clearly as we can today with the internet. However I do remember my dad taking us for a drive in the country. You saw greenery, animals, and could get to areas where there were no houses. Things I remember: There were snow drifts in the winter that were so high we could jump off the roof of the house and land in the snow softly. There was over 4 feet of ice on the bay we could drive a truck out 12 miles and had to drill through 4 feet of ice to get our lines in the water. I remember going fishing catching fish and being able to eat them. Planting a garden was easy there was plenty of good soil. It was a time of plenty. These days you’ve got to wonder if we’re gonna struggle to eat and drink. We had a drought in 1988 that scared me. I had never seen so much greenery turn brown from lack of water. Also in the present I,ve noticed the water level in the bay has dropped so much that I don’t even recognize it anymore. What was once shoreline is now weeds and marsh. There is a lot of misinformation out there but I think the earth is changing and that our living environment is suffering. I wish that I had an easy comfortable answer but I don’t. The best results I’ve seen yet are the ones achieved by people working together. We owe it to one another to adapt better values when it comes to sustaining a biological diverse environment. It’s easier to accept denial than it is to accept responsibility.

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