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The Pace is Quickening

March 26, 2012 - Here in Loveland (Ohio), Spring started about March 1.  That's actually the beginning of meteorological Spring, but much earlier than Spring typically begins in southwest Ohio.  We actually had over a week of temperatures in the low- to mid-80's.  Needless to say, everything is in bloom, forsythia blooming simultaneously with redbud trees, which is highly unusual.  Since I already had my cool-weather vegetable seeds, I quickly got them stuck in the ground.  I planted potatoes yesterday.  We've had substantial rain, though no gentle showers.  The rain comes down heavily, sometimes for hours at a time.  The Little Miami River - the one closest to my house - is running higher than usual right now because of heavy rain last week.  I understand the pollen count is very high.  Fortunately, I don't suffer from hayfever, and have only sneezed a few times.  My husband has suffered from allergies in the past, but doesn't seem to be feeling them much, in all likelihood because of the damp weather.

On the plus side, I've been able to get outside more than I ordinarily would for this time of year, and I'm getting a lot of "preliminary" yard work out of the way: cutting back woody plants like purple loosestrife and hibiscus, digging up weeds (by the truckload!) in my flower beds, spraying weeds in the yard with an organic weed killer, and even fertilizing a little bit.  To be honest, the weather has been glorious.  This week it's going to be considerably cooler, with temperatures below freezing tonight.  Because my house faces west, it's unlikely I'll need to cover anything - the afternoon sun will make everything warm enough to survive the chill overnight.

Thus far, 7,000 temperature records have been broken or equalled in the United States the last two weeks.  Pretty remarkable, by any standard.  Granted, it's a big country, but the current heat wave is being described as unprecedented.  Needless to say, one can only wonder what lies in store for us during the rest of 2012.  According to Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, the early heat stimulates growth in plants, resulting in a pollen season that has gotten longer by one to two weeks over the last half-century. In addition, the higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air stimulate pollen production in highly allergenic plants like ragweed.

The pollen count in Atlanta, Georgia last week was 9,400 grains per cubic meter.  How bad is 9,400? Fifteen hundred is considered very high.  Believe it or not, Atlanta isn't even the worst place in the U.S. for allergy victims.  That dubious distinction goes to Knoxville, Tennesse.  For the last three years, Knoxville has been named worst city in the country for allergies by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

So what does this all add up to?

            "What we're seeing now is not surprising in the greenhouse world ...
              It's just the beginning of our experience with the new atmosphere."

This comment, made by Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, professor at Princeton University and former participant in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stresses something we dare not lose sight of: there are many who would prefer to believe that what we are currently experiencing represents the worst of climate change.  Not only is this not the case, it is very far from the truth.  What we are seeing is the bare beginnings of a crisis taking shape before our very eyes.  If increased pollen counts don't seem like the makings of a tragedy, try combining asthma with allergies.  Try combining drought with beetle-ravaged trees.  Try combining advancing coastlines with 75% of the population living at or near the coast.  The whole promises to be much greater than the sum of the parts.  It's still not too late.  That's the tricky part, isn't it?  Not knowing when it will be too late.


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