ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Another Long Hot Summer

Here, along the shore of Lake Michigan, we have been experiencing some extreme heat. Our climate is changed, whether we want to accept it or not. Since the first of the year, we have averaged 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the "average" temperature for Green Bay, Wisconsin. Records go back about 150 years and in addition to breaking records for all time high temperatures, we have set a trend line far beyond that of any single year since we began to keep records. Instead of having a heat wave, which ebbs and flows over relatively short periods of time, ours has been a withering and sustained heat with precious few and inconceivably brief interludes that approach "normal". Just this week, I heard that our summer cooling bills will outstrip our winter heating bills for the first time ever and there is another round of record setting temps setting up to arrive in the coming few days.

What few realize about climate, is that it has remained relatively stable for thousands of years.Just in the last hundred, we have seen most areas lose over 90% of their native forest cover. Additionally,  over 90% of wetlands have been either drained or filled. Add to this the growing portion of the Earth covered with impermeable surfaces and the destabilization of the atmosphere and one can see that the solutions to these recent problems are intimately tied to one another and the way human beings make their way in the world. When many parts of the planet were inhabited by tribal groups, the objects and artifacts that humans produced were biodegradable, well-designed and artistically crafted to reflect the spirit of their creators. Today, we render the landscape as well as most of the territory we inhabit toxic, cluttered and devoid of life. Many have commented that even our art seems to have no soul.

Why the schism? Why can't we seem to recapture the humanity of our "primitive" ancestors? Perhaps we spend too much time in our cages, or driving too fast to see the changes that we leave in our wake. Perhaps we have become too busy chasing our tails to find time to relate to our children, sit back and enjoy the place we call home or to even share our deepest dreams with our waking selves. It is ironic that as we develop new tools for "knowing", we often lose the wisdom of the ancients. As we find new distractions, we forget to take time to enjoy life's simple pleasures. Is it any wonder that more and more people are feeling depressed, isolated and alone. For Pete's sake, what did we expect? People are dying from the heat and simultaneously, we chill retail outlets and gas stations to the point that workers there need to go outside to warm up. Is anyone keeping an eye on the trends? Or are we all waiting to see who the next star on American Idol might be?

My favorite ECO-Tour to take is a slow walk around my property. I used to do this even when I was a renter. Take an hour, just sit still and see what goes on in your back yard, or look carefully at what is going on outside your front door. We have a thousand pressing reasons to ignore the space around us, but break this habit just once and you will begin to see things that you never knew existed. Seeing for many is just a first step. Soon you may ask a question, or wonder at what you are seeing and then the insight has a chance to grow inside you. There are several places around my tiny city lot that are favorites of ants. These creatures not only thrive on energetic hot spots on the land, but by their very existence create a massive energetic signature by their activity and metabolism. If you can sensitize yourself to the messages they have about your local environment, you will soon find yourself looking at the landscape differently. Take the time to do a casual inventory of the "weeds", or the birds, or the pockets where cottonwood fluff collects in the Spring, or where dry leaves cluster in the fall.Ypou will soon find eddies and vortecies, or the evidence of them and this in turn leads to "hearing" what the wind has to say about your place.

We had a day last week where the grass turned from mostly green with some light beige patches to mostly blanched beige with a few remaining sprigs of green scattered around in tiny patches. Whether the remaining green is from low spots in the yard, an afternoon shadow cast by trees across the street or slightly richer soil can only be known from time consuming observation or thoughtful observation and research. sadly, none of these are financially rewarding, however, they are infinitely edifying to those who care to pay attention. To put the 7.2 degrees warmer than average into perspective, it as if our area, just south of the forty-fifth parallel had been moved to central Illinois, nearly four-hundred miles to our south! One of the least understood aspects of climate change is that there are dozens of feedback loops that have operated in relative balance over extremely long periods and that the disruptions act like a sort of domino effect influencing other aspects of climate that in turn set off chain reactions that we don't understand very well. Many high temperature records were set during the dust bowl days, when millions of tons of soil that had taken ten thousand years to develop blew away. we are still suffering from the effects of that tragic loss.

Who knew that when we busted the sod, that had developed over thousands of years, and turned our prairies to monocrop production, that the results would be so devastating? Today we are embarking on a much more dangerous and sustained assault on Mother earth and we need to only look outside our windows to see the changes that have been brewing over the last few decades. less days of winter snow cover have led to more of the Sun's energy being captured by the soil. Warmer water and less run off translate to less ice cover, more evaporation and higher winter-time humidity. This, in turn, allows more heat energy to be held in the moist air. Just these few interactions can push temperature up and these are all results of human activity. It is ironic too that the same people who seek power and control over their environment and who claim to know how others should behave are often the quickest to claim that driving their truck couldn't possibly have world-wide ecological implications.

A wise man once said that the world would not end with a bang, but a whimper. I moved away from Springfield, Illinois because the climate was not what I wanted to live with for the rest of my life. it has found me again, and instead of the snowy and cold winters, that I loved in my youth, we have icy drizzle and last year, spinach grew unprotected outside for the first time in my experience. The long hot summers lead to shorter and warmer winters as well and the actions that we take today may have implications for years and decades to come. Finding ways to increase diversity can only increase our chances for survival. Just remember, issues that were in the making for over one hundred years cannot be offset in a single lifetime. There may not be any financial reward for paying attention, or studying these things carefully, but the possibility of creating a better world for the next generations should be enough reason to put our minds to stopping the forces that seek to beat nature into submission.


  1. If this keeps up, we will start to see our landscapes shifting to become something more like there is in the Dakotas.

  2. All hands on deck, install your rain barrels now!