The groundhog predicted an early spring this year. How a groundhog predicts the coming of the seasons, the world may never know, but it seems that this year perhaps he was right. There hasn’t been snow on the ground in weeks, and temperatures don’t seem to be dipping much below freezing anytime soon. This winter has been mild. Many of us would say it’s been nice. An early spring and a mild winter sound a great idea. It’s unlikely any of us would complain about that, but, warmer, dry winters like this one are not typical of Central Pennsylvania. Climate change is affecting global weather patterns, and some of the repercussions could hit very close to home.
“We have to look at this in terms of long term impacts” Brandon Hoover, Director of Sustainability said. “What we are experiencing on a daily basis is partly due to climate change, the importance here is averages. That’s what would be important to look at for this winter is what has been the average temperature this winter, and how much higher is it above the normal average?”
According to the National Climate Report for February, Pennsylvnia had it’d second highest temperatures on record this month. For the entire Northeast, it has been the third hottest February on record.
The problem with disrupted weather patterns like this is the repercussions it has on the land, and the people who work with the land. As a state who relies heavily on land use for a source of income, climate change has a direct impact on the citizens Pennsylvania, specifically manual laborers, farmers, and even travelers who come here to enjoy the Appalachian Trail and surrounding natural features.
Weather extremes such as extreme precipitation and extreme heat are directly correlated to the land. When there is an extreme precipitation event, it is difficult for farmers to get their crops into the ground. In the same way, it is difficult for landscapers to work in wet conditions.
“There’s just a lot of people whose livelihoods depend upon the land and the natural environment” Hoover said.
In Pennsylvania, this kind of labor is important to the economic infrastructure of the state. Extreme weather due to climate change has an economic effect, as well as social and health impacts.
“There is also concerns about the health impact in the spread of disease” Hoover said. “The spread of disease, mostly insect borne illnesses are anticipated to increase as the climate changes because population growth will continue to rise of those particular species. They don’t go through a normal population die off in the winter when we don’t have cold winters.”
Many Pennsylvania fruit orchards experience a similar problem with warm winter conditions. When a tree flowers too early because of extreme temperatures, it is likely to freeze when the weather gets colder again, and the crop on that tree is ruined.
The reality is that the effects of climate change are not going to get better if people don’t start to make individual changes that will hopefully lead to bigger institutional changes. There are actions we can take as students here and now, but in the long run, it is important to consider and take care of the place in which live and the valuable infrastructures that keep it afloat.
Hoover recommends taking the Sustainable Living Survey which was sent out to all students via email this past week. That is a good place to start in order to understand how our own individual lifestyles may be impacting the larger problem at hand. Living in small spaces with other people, which Messiah students do so well, is also good for environmental concerns as it reduces individual waste and consumption. Carpooling is also something students can do to reduce the carbon emissions from individual vehicles. Find ways you can positively contribute to your environment, and see where the future of environmentally friendly choices may take you. It just might mean that someone’s livelihood no longer has to be at stake due to environmental concerns. Saving the environment has to be a community effort, but it starts with the individual.