Local Impacts

Climate change is a huge, scary, dramatic problem, which strikes at the very foundation of our civilization as it stands today. As such, it has generated a lot of controversy; those that oppose stepping off the familiar path that leads to the dragon's cave have, for the most part, controlled the tone of the international debate.

In trying to win over the general public, the environmental movement has fallen back on tactics that have worked in the past. They have shown us a future of drowning polar bears, of dead coral reefs, and of terrifying storms that wipe cities off the map. All of these are real risks, to be sure, but it puts the whole issue in the wrong terms. Like saving the rainforest, or the whales, it puts the issue in terms of a problem that is far away - we can take action if we want, but not doing so won't hurt us.

Unlike rainforest destruction, however, global climate change is everywhere, and so are its impacts. If you want to see the changes being wrought in the world around you, you don't need to go to the North Pole or Amazonia- you can simply walk out the door and observe.

So why isn't this getting any press coverage? Why, if the signs are all around us, are we even having this debate?

The main problem is that the signs around us are subtle. If you walk out the door and look around, you get a snapshot - nothing close to the amount of data you'd need to tell if changes are going on.

The changes are happening, though, and it is important to pay attention to them. While debates rage in politics, and atmospheric physicists try to distill their lives' work into talking points, scientists and naturalists are doing what they always do - they are observing and recording the world around them, and they are carefully putting together a thousand local stories.

The story of how the maple sugar industry is suffering in Vermont. The story of how the redwing blackbird is arriving earlier in New Hampshire. The stories of how cold-water fish are moving north in Maine and Connecticut. There are many of these stories, and most of them say the same thing: whether humans agree on it or not, the world is changing, and all around the planet, life is on the move.

The sensational stories are still important. Pity the polar bear, and fight for its survival by all means, but just as important are the stories that we ourselves are living in. The characters of a novel, or of a movie, never consider themselves to be part of some great tale, and yet when we step back and look at the story as a whole, we can see how they fit in, and the part they played. We are, today, in the midst of a planetary change the likes of which civilization has never seen, and we have the opportunity to watch the story as it unfolds in our own lives. What day did the buds open in the tree outside your window?