Skip to Content

No Denying It, Climate Change Is Happening Now

What winter?

 

The leaves came off the last trees -- a crabapple, a willow and a hardy Norway maple -- during the first week of December this year, surely the latest I can remember seeing leaves on trees since we moved to the Philadelphia area 18 years ago. But it’s not just that.

A rhododendron bush beside the house has huge blooms ready to burst open, the white petal tips pushing out of their scaly looking egg-sized buds. And our garden is still boasting a surprisingly fast-growing crop of chard, sweet kale and perhaps most surprisingly, tall fava bean plants that, while they didn’t produce any beans this year, saute up to make a beautiful doumiao -- one of my favorite Chinese vegetable dishes.

On a micro level, it is nice to be able to harvest fresh veggies pest-free from our garden a few days before the new year (and, judging by the 10-day forecast, well into 2016!), thanks to our not having had one below-freezing day yet this fall and winter, and only a few nights when the temperature dipped into the high 20s, not enough to kill hardier vegetables like kale and chard. But viewed through a climate-change lens this is pretty scary.

Nobody can tell me that climate change is a hoax.

Oh sure, we could chalk this thus-far winterless winter in the northeastern US to El Niño, but that just dodges the reality that this year’s El Niño is the mother of all El Niños. And why is that? Warming oceans.

It could be that we’ll get some cold weather later this winter -- perhaps another “polar vortex” like we had last year, but even that, remember, was easily attributable to even more dramatic warming that has been occurring in the far north, up above the Arctic Circle, where markedly higher temperatures have weakened the force of the Jet Stream, and made its globe-circling course much more erratic, including big loops down into the temperate zone, including the central and eastern US, where it brought us arctic winds and a lot of snow.

In Upstate New York friends say the evidence of climate change is also evident. In the East Branch of the Delaware River, famous among trout anglers, the water has gotten so warm in summer that the trout are dying off. Runs of American eel, which used to also populate the river in summer months before heading off to the Sargasso Sea to breed, are now also in a steep decline. Meanwhile an invasive species, the ash borer, is wiping out the region’s many ash trees -- once the favored wood for American baseball bats like the Louisville Slugger, as well as for furniture. Local sawmills are buying up all the trees they can before they’re all killed off. With no severe winters to kill off the bugs, this devastating blight will likely see the ash tree go the way of the American elm and chestnut.

Rhododendron buds opening after Xmas north of Philadelphia, and the 2015 Arctic sea ice minimum in 2015 vs. the historic average minimum extent of sea iceRhododendron buds opening after Xmas north of Philadelphia, and the 2015 Arctic sea ice minimum in 2015 vs. the historic average minimum extent of sea ice

 

 



story | by Dr. Radut