The Cold Side of Climate Change

It’s hard to believe with the weather we’ve seen these past couple of weeks, but at the beginning of December The Oregonian published an article titled “What’s with all these early blooms?” Unseasonably high temperatures and excessive rain had led to strange winter growth, and plants thought it was spring.

Kathy Dello of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute was quoted as saying “we’re looking at one of the warmest years in the history of Oregon.” This warming and subsequent early blooms were a problem in and of themselves — but what about now? This past weekend we saw our second winter freeze in just two weeks. Our in-house agriculture expert, Karen Lewotsky, explained what a sudden freeze will do to those early blooms that sprouted earlier in December:

“Warmer temperatures tell plants to behave as though it’s growing season. When we do get a hard frost and prolonged cold, all those plants will be in an exuberant growth phase, making them extremely vulnerable to the cold. This may be daunting for gardeners, but for some farmers it could mean the difference between a profitable year or going bust.”

This is just one climate impact we’re experiencing now that not only will our farmers experience the brunt of, but ultimately so will many of us: through higher grocery bills as the price of good increase, and perhaps as some goods are no longer available during their traditional growing seasons. We’ve already seen that climate change has altered the growing season for Oregon berries.

But what about the winter storms themselves? In Western Oregon we’ve experienced two so far that have essentially shut down the Portland metro area, closing schools and making roads impassable. Do these low temperatures mean that climate change isn’t happening, or that it’s slowed down? Not so fast with that snowball, Senator James Inhofe! Phil Mote, Director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, told us in a recent phone chat that despite these chilly winter storms, we’re still experiencing an unseasonably warm winter. In fact, he told us, “almost every winter since 1985 has been warmer than the one before it.” Yikes.  

If you know of any doubters who point to snow, ice or general cold weather as evidence that global warming isn’t happening, make sure they see this: NASA tells us that 2016 climate trends continue to break records. “Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880,” they report, also saying that “the six-month period from January to June was also the planet’s warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the late nineteenth century.”

We also discussed with Mote the possibility that global warming could be making winter storms (and storms in general) more severe. Some research has been done into this, like the Yale Climate Connections piece on how global warming may have contributed to Boston’s 2014 record snowfall. However Mote cautions us to not draw too many conclusions just yet; that scientific theory hasn’t been proven. What we do know for certain, is that cold weather does not mean global warming is stopping, or slowing down.

So let’s collectively act on this information together. This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a people issue, a planet issue, a human rights issue, one that affects us all. OEC is actively engaged in championing solutions that make Oregon a leader in the global climate movement.

You can sign up for our grassroots action list to stay apprised of timely ways you can act on climate. You can become a member of Oregon Environmental Council for as little as $5 a month. You can share this blog with anyone you know who might still be skeptical. We’re in this together and we don’t have a moment to waste. Join us.

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