two years ago [“Let Them Eat Jellyfish,” Looking Up, Feb.
1, 2006], I pondered in this space the creepiness of an extended
super-warm January thaw and what it said about the approaching
days when global warming would come home to roost. It feels
like much longer ago, given the multiple thaws we’ve already
gotten used to having.
Not that we haven’t had genuine winter weather too. But I’ve
got to say, when I overheard a dramatic weather report leading
into last weekend (“The high will barely reach . . . 20 degrees!”),
I couldn’t help but think, “Since when is a high of 20 in
upstate New York in February something to make a fuss about?”
But of course, we are adaptable critters, and it is particularly
easy to adapt our expectations away from something harsh,
like cold weather.
Adapting was an important theme at the New York Farming and
Climate Instability forum held at the Legislative Office Building
on Jan. 30. The forum was a listening session to tell state
officials how to support New York state farmers through the
coming climate change, and also (unofficially) to rally support
for New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz’s (D-Brooklyn)
bill to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. You could
be forgiven if you expected it to be somewhat depressing.
And indeed, much of what the keynote speaker, Dr. Cynthia
Rosenzweig of NASA and the Nobel Prize-winning International
Panel on Climate Change, had to say was pretty sobering. If
I live to see 100, I will experience a Capital Region with
a climate somewhere between Virginia (best-case scenario)
and South Carolina/Georgia (we-don’t-get-our-acts-together
scenario). Along the way we’ll have more droughts and more
floods, as well as more pest problems (they won’t go dormant
over the winter, or will emerge earlier, before their predators).
We will also see problems with heat-stressed livestock that
make less milk and reproduce less, apple trees that don’t
get the cold dormant periods they need, and changes in the
populations and timing of pollinating species. And so on.
It’s enough to make you consider moving to Canada even if
we get a sane president and our Bill of Rights back. Northern
But that wasn’t actually the mood of the forum. Rosenzweig
set the tone when she opened with “We are in a new phase of
climate change. After 20 years of working on it, we’re in
the solution phase.” She sugar-coated nothing, but focused
on the twin approaches of mitigation—reducing emissions and
sequestering existing carbon in the atmosphere to reduce long-term
risk—and adaptation—reducing the negative effects, and, yes,
making the most of the benefits of warming.
The neat thing, of course, is that such things often overlap.
Sequestering carbon, as in increasing the carbon content of
the soil with organic matter, is also a great way (in fact,
the best and central way) to strengthen the soil and crops
to withstand harsher weather and more pests. Organic, natural
farming methods that have made for healthier farms and healthier
food for decades now—erosion control, careful soil building
instead of commercial fertilizer, planting diverse and sturdy
heirloom breeds that are right for the (current) climate—are
also what we need to face this new challenge.
And the farmers on the panel were already there. Unlike those
of us who notice the weather in terms of how pleasant it makes
it to walk down the block, farmers are intimately reliant
on the weather, and didn’t need the graphs to tell them what
was going down. One farmer from Orange County mentioned that
when she started growing hot peppers 15 years ago people told
her that she was crazy to try that in New York. She got a
two-week harvest. Today she gets a six-week harvest.
As I left the LOB, I was surprised to find that I was not
downcast, even though as a hot-weather-disliking person, I’d
prefer the climate of Georgia to stay far away from my brisk
winter walks and cool summers. Not to mention I don’t really
relish having more ticks and mosquitoes interrupting my great
outdoors. I think I stayed cheerful for two reasons.
First, the unknown is always scarier. Most of the activism
around global warming since the 1980s has been focused on
trying to get us riled up enough to prevent it, and therefore
focusing on the most dramatic and global of the potential
effects—drowned islands and cities, dead coral reefs. This
is the first time someone broke it down and said to me “Here’s
what it’ll probably look like for you, and when.” I didn’t
like the answer, but I’ve always known I wouldn’t. Striving
to tilt us toward the less extreme scenario feels easier to
get my hands around than just trying to swat away something
that seems inevitable.
The other reason is that one of the key steps toward reducing
carbon emissions and adapting to the changes—relocalizing
food markets—has some energy behind it, especially locally.
We grow some tasty stuff ’round here, and people want more
of it. I went to a meeting last month of the planning group
for the 100 Mile Diet challenge, in which people try to eat
entirely local food for the month of September. It was just
a planning meeting, not a pep rally, but I came away feeling
that it was a meeting of people who expect to succeed and
who can feel momentum building in their favor. It was a very
different feeling from most activist gatherings.
There’s a long way to go, to be sure. But if anything can
pass policy this ambitious and effect behavior changes this
big, optimism, regional pride, and good food are some good