Climate myopia

The American Optometric Association estimates that nearly 30 percent of all Americans are nearsighted. Almost a third of us have difficulty seeing things at a distance.

Friends who are severely nearsighted have told me stories of childhoods where the world was in focus only a short distance form their face. They thought that was the way everyone saw things and never complained or said anything to their parents until one day a teacher noticed they were holding a book too close or didn’t seem to pay any attention to things written on the blackboard at the front of the room. Putting glasses on changed their lives and made the whole world bigger.

I think the percentage of us who are nearsighted in other ways might be much higher. It really is hard to imagine what the world is like on the other side of the globe. We have a hard time understanding why others think so differently than we do. We might think we can look backward to the past and understand clearly what happened historically. Looking behind us, however, is often filtered through our own world view, experiences and beliefs. Looking forward into the future is even more difficult.

When I look outside my window today I see a cold, wet, muddy May day. The ground is so cold that only a few hardly spears of grass have turned green. The trees have buds waiting for some warm sunshine. The tulips in my garden popped out of the ground early, but have decided to wait for warmer days to send up blossoms. This winter seemed colder than normal and far longer than I remember last winter. My shortsighted, limited view makes me think global warming might be a good idea.

The US Global Change Research Program released their third National Climate Assessment last week. It is entitled “Global Climate Change Impacts in the Untied States.” The report was researched and written by climate scientists, environmentalists, as well as representatives of energy companies, agrochemical companies, economists and sociologists and others. It was open for public comment before publication.

This new report gives us glasses with which to view a bigger picture of the world.

The report outlines what these researchers think could happen if we continue to pour greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at an increasing rate, and what might happen if we manage to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. While the best case will require adaptation and changes to how we live, where we live and how we grow our food, the worst case scenario is ominous.

The report indicates that initially, places like North Dakota might see some increases in agricultural productivity due to warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide. Those increases, however, will be overshadowed by increased insect and disease damage. Winter and spring precipitation levels will increase even more than they have already. The number of frost free days will increase and the number of warm nights will affect how plants pollinate and grow. North Dakota, according to the report, has experienced the fastest increase in annual temperatures in the contiguous United States. In spite of what seemed like a winter that would never end, graphing temperatures recorded for the last 130 years show that our rapid increase in annual temperature is mainly due to warmer winters.

Not only is our shortsighted view of climate limited to our most recent experience, it is limited by geography. When we deny global climate change because it is cold outside and last winter was miserable, we ignore the reality of record warm months on the other side of the globe, continuing drought in California and the increasing frequency of torrential rain and record snowfall in the Northeast.

This new report points out that one does not have to be farsighted to see the reality of climate change. Sea levels are rising. The ocean has become more acidic. Polar ice and glaciers are melting. Birds, animals, insects and plants are moving north.

It’s time to put our glasses on and see further than the weather just outside our back door.

The report can be found at <http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/NCADAC/index.html&gt;

Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains

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