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The TCBH! Climate Change Report: A Palm Tree Grows Outside Philadelphia

 

I went out today and checked on my palm tree. It’s a small thing: the trunk is only about a foot from the ground, with the palmate fronds spreading out from the upper part. New fronds appear as compressed blades sticking up from the center. They have a kind of fuzz on them, like the lanugo on a newborn baby. What makes my little palm unusual is it sits in my front yard in Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles north of the edge of Philadelphia. It’s clearly not a native species to this area, but it is doing surprisingly well. Although we’ve had a number of nights now when the temperature dropped below freezing, including two when it dropped to about 26 degrees, the fronds are still bright green, and the shoots have continued to grow.

While the palm is pretty, and striking in its own way, standing out against the backdrop of deciduous trees that have finally shed all their leaves for the winter, it is also a little disturbing -- a harbinger of an enormous climate change that is taking place in front of my eyes.

I have good reason to believe that this little tree is going to survive our Philadelphia winter (which last year never went below 25 degrees, and then only for such short periods of time that the ground never froze below about an inch or two of soil), and that it will continue to grow where I planted it, perhaps becoming the first palm in Pennsylvania.

As I write this, negotiators are meeting in Doha, Qatar, supposedly to negotiate a treaty that will lead to serious efforts by the nations of the world to finally start reducing the release of more carbon into the earth’s already overloaded atmosphere. We hear from UN researchers that the global emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere have risen by 54% between 1990 and 2011, and that by the end of this year, that number will be 58%. They were supposed to be going down over that period.

Meanwhile, the evidence that all this carbon is starting to have a snowball effect on global warming. Ice caps in both the Arctic and the Antarctic are melting, and at a faster rate than anyone was predicting even five years ago. The oceans, both as a result of that melting, and thanks to the expansion of the water itself as it warms, are showing a measurable rise, which was one of the reasons for the extraordinary damage done to New York City and the surrounding shorelines by the recent late-season super-storm Hurricane Sandy. A similar superstorm, with winds up to almost 200 mph, located further south than ever recorded in the Pacific, just tore through Mindanao in the southern Philippines. (Both storms were powered by a historically unprecedented rise in ocean surface temperatures.)

Beautiful Palmetto palm, but a foreboding sight in PennsylvaniaBeautiful Palmetto palm, but a foreboding sight in Pennsylvania

 



story | by Dr. Radut