By George Harvey
Climate change is not uniform. This is a fact that needs to be repeated often, because so few people understand. Different parts of the world will warm more than others. Different seasons and different parts of the day warm more than others.
Here, in the Northeast, the average temperature has increased about 2° F, but the greatest increase has been for the temperature of the night of the coldest part of the winter. This is the coldest temperature of the year, and it is of particular importance because it is what kills off both perennial plants we might wish to have and pests we want to avoid.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zone Map divides the U.S. into zones based on the coldest night’s temperature, by steps of 10° F. The one issued in 2005 showed that about half the country was in warmer zones than in 1990. The map was withdrawn shortly after it issued.
The latest maps from the Arbor Day Foundation show the warming continuing. The greatest change is in the northeastern quarter of the contiguous states. The states of Vermont and Kentucky are almost entirely in different hardiness zones than they were in 1990. (http://bit.ly/arbor-day-zone-changes)
The deer ticks that have moved farther north, bringing Lyme disease to parts of the Northeast where it had been unheard of only thirty years ago, are driven by climate change. Other pests, such as woolly adelgids, have also moved in, undeterred by winter cold.
A new research paper from the Northeast Climate Science Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) shows that our area of the world will probably see greater- than-average increases in temperature. While scientists across the world have called to limit increases to 2°C (3.6° F) and have much preferred to limit the increase to 1.5°C, the UMass researchers foresee increases in the United States to be greater than in most of the rest of the world.
For the Northeast, they see a rate of change about 50% higher than world averages. In other words, if the world can limit increases to 2°C, we will go up 3°C (5.4° F). The effect of this on that coldest night of the winter will almost certainly be much greater. And, of course, that means more worries than just Lyme disease.
The researchers said wetter winters will accompany the higher temperatures. With higher temperatures, however, this does not bode well for the ski industry. Nor do higher temperatures look good for a number of other traditional agricultural products of the area, such as maple syrup.
The scientists say that the COP21 Paris climate agreements are not sufficient to stop climate change at 2°C. In order to do that, we will have to do much better than achieving the goals we have set. One report from the United Nations said we are set to see increases of 2.9°C to 3.4°C, unless we can do better.
Meanwhile, however, we have a political process that is dominated by a party whose elected members in Washington, D.C. deny the importance of climate change.
We could dwell on the curious fact that their election was arguably funded by the one group of businesses that is inextricably linked to climate change. We can do better than that, however. The states, local governments, and people of the United States can have a deep effect on the entire issue of climate change and government simply by refusing to buy their products. We can be more comfortable and save money in the process.