Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Climate Change Frustrations

It has been interesting, to say the least, to have the opportunity to explore climate change issues this summer as I working for the National Park Service in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the Cleveland/Akron, OH metro area. We are situated on 33,000 acres of pristine forest and farmland between these two major metropolitan areas. With lakes to fish, trails to bike on, and plenty of farmers markets, it has been a nice little haven for the past couple of months.

I am working with that park as the George Melendez Wright Climate Intern, through the National Council for Science and the Environment, enhancing the parks climate change outreach programs. I am working to incorporate climate change lessons into our existing environmental education programs, as well as draft new programs to take place either on site or at area schools. These programs will look at such issues at the differences between climate and weather, climate regions around the world, how do we know the climate is changing, what is causing this change, and what sort of Earth-friendly practices can we perform in our own lives to adapt to and mitigate climate change. This position is also working in conjunction with the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the non-profit friends group that works alongside the NPS is our mission to protect the resources of the park and educate the public.

We read daily about climate change in the newspapers, see the videos and images online, and are constantly bombarded with the doomsday opinions of research scientists about what will happen should we not change our ways. We see the pictures of polar bears floating off into the ocean on melting sea ice, the melting glaciers in Glacier National Park, and severe drought and famine in under-developed nations. While these issues pluck the heartstrings of people around the world, it has been very difficult to garner an interest in climate change mitigation in northeastern Ohio. Scientists have many predictions about the changes we will see in this area, but nothing has surfaced as of yet. I am attempting to educate the public on something that we can barely monitor for in this area. Below are some of the biggest predictions that scientists see for our area and the Midwest region:
  • Overall drought conditions, but higher frequency of large storm events
  • More heat days (over 90 degrees)
  • Earlier spring thaws
  • Increased water temperature of Lake Erie (by 10 degrees)
  • Lower water levels of Lake Erie (by 2 feet)
  • Increased invasive species (eg. more poison ivy with an increased potency) 
We are witnessing, nor predicting, nothing terribly drastic, so how do you get people to sign onto a cause that many do not believe will affect their lives terribly much. They will still be able to go to Giant Eagle and get their food. They don't care if their tomato travels 2,000 miles from Mexico or comes from the local farm market. They will still drive their SUV, run their air-conditioning when it hits only 80 degrees, and do a lot of other practices that just are not smart and contribute to a declining environmental standard around the world. I will not get too much into the politics, but according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 95% of scientists now agree that Earth's climate is changing and is anthropogenic.

It has been frustrating to try to get people to sign onto this cause. When I tell people what I do, I get many frowns and bad looks. It gets even worse when they ask what impacts we are seeing in this area and all I can tell them is that everything is predicted and show them graphics such as the CO2 measurements in the atmosphere and rising average global temperature:

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2010)

Graphics look great, but anyone can alter a graphic to prove a point that they want. What we need is more solid evidence of climate change in the Great Lakes Region and, more specifically, Lake Erie. They say it will be impacted to least of all the Great Lakes (again, not helping my cause). It's good for the environment, but bad for what I'm trying to do. I will be starting my doctoral studies at Kent State University this fall in Geography, where I have the opportunity to look at climate change issues. I see gaping holes in the research that has been done thus far and the opportunity to advance this research. Seems like a possibly great task! According to NOAA, for the first time in recorded human history, we have hit 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Carbon Dioxide hits milestone at Arctic sites). Things are changing, but people are not.

Whether a climate change advocate or opponent, I think we can all agree that sustainable practices are just smart. Who doesn't want cleaner cities, cleanier air, safer neighborhoods, and more access to fresh and local foods? It's simple things we can do really. You don't need to install a wind turbine or try to go completely off the grid (although kudos if you do), but enact small changes in your own life and work on establishing and sharing your environmental and sustainability ethic to those around you.  A little, when grouped with other's little changes, go a long way towards greater change.

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