The turn of the season brings questions about nature’s future
“Dinosaurs faced something similar and they also did nothing. If we don’t act, who will?” —seen on a Climate Coalition 21 poster in Paris
In the October 2010 “Shades of Green” column, I wrote about how trees produce fall colors. I advised leaf peepers to emerge from air conditioning and enjoy autumn. Once again it’s time to appreciate the wondrous way in which deciduous trees prepare for winter. So, here’s that same information:
With the tilt of the Earth, it’s clear that there will be less light for photosynthesis for food making, and water will be harder to get. Trees begin to shut down. At the base of each leaf is a small corky layer that swells and cuts off the flow of water. With no access to water, green chlorophyll disappears and we see the color of the leaves underneath. Eventually, the corky layer forms a disintegrating cell line that says ‘tear here’ and so each leaf falls to the ground. It’s a miraculous process.
In that column I further explained that climate change brings negative changes to planetary ecosystems. With fall and spring lasting longer, animal and plant patterns are out of sync. Tree nuts don’t fall when they used to, preventing usual spring sprouting and animal storage abilities. Migration and egg laying times are confounded by extreme temperatures and catastrophic weather events. Insect pests have more time and places to invade. Suffice to say we are losing diversity of species, habitat, and available water.
A Tennessee River Basin Biodiversity Network website shows our usual bird populations moving north along with some hardwood species that contribute to a strong state economy. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency conducted a scientific review and produced a report titled Climate Change and Potential Impacts to Wildlife in Tennessee. Findings have led to a Wildlife Action Plan.
Drought causes an earlier leaf drop. Warmer temperatures delay and shorten foliage season. Further, trees depend on day length as a cue to prepare for winter. The greater the discrepancy between day length and winter temperatures, the more confused trees become as to when to start their fall process. Cloud cover has an effect too.
Which brings me to the weather in 2016. Tennessee temperatures have been the hottest ever since humans have been around. They continue to rise. Especially this year there’s been an H-U-G-E amount of hot air. It’s an election year! How will you vote?
We have two main candidates:
This short-term thinker believes that we do not want to change anything for the future. Instead we need to restore what (he believes) we once had, i.e. a narrowly defined monoculture of people living in isolation, keeping the bad guys away, and measuring success through business profits based on a fossil fuel economy. In that scenario, climate change action is unneeded, but loosening up on environmental/health and business regulations is. Just keep things the way they were except not that Statue of Liberty promise part.
This longer-term thinker sees value in a diverse population working together both locally and on a global scale for solutions that fit the changing environment and demographics. Good futures require climate change action and the Paris Agreement, signed by 190 countries, is only a start. For those displaced in the fossil fuel industry as we move to a cleaner economy, jobs will be available in building green infrastructure, creating energy efficient and less wasteful products, plus new technology education through business and government programs.
As leaves turn different colors each according to their species, it reminds us of the strength and beauty in biodiversity. An acre of land containing just one type of tree is not a forest. USA too is strong because of its biodiversity in cultures and faiths. There has always been change on Earth. Either we adapt or become extinct. Vote for a leader that believes in biodiverse solutions. Walk in the woods to ease election anxiety.
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. You can visit her website to learn more at enviroedu.net