Warmer Winter Weather: How It Is Affecting The Environment

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Change is inevitable. Change is a progression. But, changes in the environment can have devastating effects on our planet.

In recent times we’ve seen the incredible era of technology, but we’ve also witnessed the drastic effects of climatic change and the progressive increase in the earth’s temperature.

One of the biggest effects of global warming is the change to our seasons. Winters are warmer and shorter and the other seasons have been impacted too. With a resulting increase in temperature, the polar ice caps are melting and the sea levels are rising.

Global Warming and Warmer Winters

Globally the seasons are changing and in some instances, drastically, bringing forth a different range of issues which weren’t apparent in the last century. Historically, the winters are getting warmer with an increase in the number of record global winter temperatures recorded. And while some may celebrate being able to put their extreme winter coats away early, this is a serious issue and one with far reaching and long-lasting impacts.

Alongside the altered winter months, some areas are experiencing “false” springs which occur earlier than expected. It can also be said that the “Sporadic hot summer-like” days are the reason behind faltering and degraded ecosystems across the globe.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “the average global temperature has increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) over the past 100 years.”

Since record-keeping for annual temperature fluctuations began in 1895, the hottest year, according to NOAA and NASA data had been 2016. The Earth’s surface showed an increase of 1.78 degrees (0.99 degrees C) compared to the averages “across the entire 20th century.” Consequently, before the 2016 record, 2015 was the hottest year, and before that 2014.

For more than 30 years, the pleasurable and “relatively stable climate of the 20th century” is now gone. Replaced by an anxiogenic (anxiety causing) situation that began in 2010 “when we seemingly crossed a threshold into a more extreme climate regime.” says the director of meteorology on Weather Underground, Jeff Masters.

These shocking and long-term effects have made many environmental activists and global organizations increase their efforts in the fight against global warming and the devastating impact it has and will continue to have, on our planet.

The main cause of global warming and the resulting increase in temperature of the earth’s surface, atmosphere and oceans, is the combustion of fossil fuels. And the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases they emit into the atmosphere. A significant report [BY WHOM?] on September 27th, 2013 showed that “more than 197 international scientific organizations agree that global warming is real and has been caused by human action.”

Disastrous Consequences of Heated Winters

Risks to and from animals

With a steady increase of heat many more “false springs“, caused by abnormal temperature hikes preceding cold snaps, are likely to occur. Vegetation and wildlife fooled by the onset of ‘spring’ often die or at damaged when another winter-like temperature drop occurs. “a false spring in 2012 caused $500 million in damages to fruit and vegetables in Michigan.”

Climatic shifts cause confusion to all plant and animal life including insects which in turn can disturb the delicate ecosystem. And while we might be happy at the thought of fewer bugs, they play a vital role in the ecosystem and higher up the food change, this loss will be felt with disastrous consequences.

Cold weather is vital in the eradication of pests and certain disease-carrying pathogens. Pine beetles, insects capable of destroying vast areas of North American forests, naturally died off in the cold weather. But with winter temperatures rising greater numbers of pine beetles survive and become a threat to the forest ecosystem.

Perhaps of more concern, the increase in winter temperatures has enabled pathogens like disease-carrying mosquitoes to flourish and with them viruses such as the Zika virus increase and infect more people. Typically the Zika virus is short-lived and minor but if caught by pregnant women it may cause birth defects.

David Inouye, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Maryland, who studies the impact of climate change on the environment, explains that several fruit trees need a certain number of hours of exposure to temperatures below freezing points to flower. And thus, the loss of winter would be detrimental for them.

Ice Melt

The melting of the ice coverage on the earth has been one of the primary symptoms of global warming. Research published in the journal Current Climate Change Reports in 2016, shows that North America, Europe, and Asia have all sustained denudation (wearing away of the earth’s surface by ice, wind and waves) of snow cover between 1960 and 2015.

Also, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, there is now “10 per cent less permafrost or permanently frozen ground, in the Northern Hemisphere than there was in the early 1900s.”

If the permafrost thaws away, it “can cause landslides, and other sudden land collapses.” More worryingly, such melts have the potential to release long dormant microbes which may carry the risk of diseases to both man and animals. In 2016 a cache of reindeer carcasses thawed and caused an outbreak of anthrax.

One of the most drastic effects of global warming is the “reduction in Arctic sea ice.” It showed sea-ice to have fallen to record-low levels “in both the fall and winter of 2015 and 2016”.

This melt marks the absence of thick sea layers that usually persists for several years. According to NASA’s Operation IceBridge, the present situation shows less heat reflected into the atmosphere by the ice surface. And this results in greater heat absorption by the comparatively darker ocean, making a “feedback loop” that causes even more ice melt.

Glacial Retreat is another clear effect of global warming. Of the 150 glaciers originally found in Montana’s Glacier National Park, only 25 remain, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Some of these glaciers have already reduced “up to 15 times as much as they would have without global warming.”

Ocean Acidification and Sea Level

Sea levels rise as terrestrial or aquatic ice melts. In 2014, the World Meteorological Organization reported that sea-level rises have seen an acceleration rate by 0.12 inches (3.175mm) on average globally per year. Compare this to the average in the 20th century which was only 0.7 inches (1.6mm) and it’s easy to see the issues faced by scientists and environmentalist worldwide.

This progression of the polar ice cap melting in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions speeds up further because of the melting of ice sheets and glaciers present across Greenland, North America, South Asia, Europe, and Asia.

According to the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency), Global sea levels have shown a marked rise of up to 8 inches since 1870, and this “rate of increase is expected to accelerate in the coming years.” If this situation continues vast swathes of occupied coastal areas where approximately half the world‘s population lives, will be underwater!

With increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the oceans are absorbing greenhouse gases in ever-increasing amounts. With the resulting acidity in the seawater forming carbonic acid and they suspect this acid to cause reproductive issues in fish.(https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/oceans/critical-issues-ocean-acidification/)

The EPA suggests that the acidity in the oceans has risen by around 25 per cent since the 1700s when the first Industrial Revolution occurred. Marine organisms, such as oysters and corals make their shells out of calcium carbonate, and acid solutions can dissolve these calcium formations.

The impact of this increased acidity will make coral reefs exceedingly rare according to the EPA reports. This caused bleaching of portions of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2016 and 2017 and continues to be a major threat to the continued survival of the coral and all its varied inhabitants.  

“Bleaching” is a phenomenon which causes the corals to eject their symbiotic algae. It signifies stress caused to the corals by very warm water and unbalanced pH or pollution. And while corals can recover from bleaching, frequent episodes can significantly decrease the chances of recovery.

Water Conservation to Curb Warm Winters

Conservation of water can maintain moisture balance in nature, and when you put less stress on non-renewable energy resources, it automatically relieves the pressure on our environment and essential water resources.

The delicate balance between evaporation and precipitation is the fundamental cycle which brings about a major change in the climate. A disruption in this natural cycle brings about terrifying conditions of drought, floods, melting glaciers and sea-level rise, along with altering the atmospheric temperature.

The total planet’s freshwater content comes to only about 3% with approximately two-thirds of which in the glaciers and polar ice caps.

Water Conservation Tips

  • Limit the use of lawn sprinklers.
  • Instal a tankless water heater. These save water usage versus traditional water heaters and can also help you save money.
  • Use a shower timer and a teeth cleaning timer in the bathroom. It’s fun for the kid’s and you’ll be amazed at how much water you can save.

The Call of the Hour

The reports of The World Economic Forum, states that the water crisis has topped the charts of its 2015 assessment of global risks. It shows immense potential for inflicting severe damage to the economic and social aspects of entire countries and sectors across the globe.

Drought has a huge economic impact on our planet causing loss of agriculture, wildlife and jobs and so much more. In 2015 the estimated cost of the California Drought was roughly around $2.7billion.

Climatic shifts and changes caused by depletion of the natural water resources would put an immense strain on existing water reserves. Not only will this exhaust precious water sources but also create an endless loop of depletion and climatic shifts.

Water Security and Water Cooperation

Climate changes will undeniably have ferocious effects on water security and the overall environment. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already alerted the global community “to the great vulnerability of freshwater resources as a result of climate change.”

A recent study conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute discovered that 4.8 billion people and “approximately half of the global grain production” would be at risk by 2050 if urgent measures are not employed to relieve this immense water-stress.

Water cooperation and management contributes and aids to “drive trans-boundary cooperation” that includes “climate resilience,” reducing the risk of international and inter-communal conflict.

What Should be Done?

To successfully achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change adaptation calls for an urgent, more active and resilient approach. Every step to adaptation should focus on equipping communities and societies to enable them to withstand shocks and disasters.

Nature-Based or Natural Solutions

A major part of the overall implementation strategy is in trees such as the mangroves. They efficiently protect shorelines from storms and lakes, reserving enormous water supplies and floodplains that absorb excess water runoff. Naturally eroded and deposited these wonderful trees can work together with the performance and financial advantages of “engineered infrastructure” for optimal results.

These natural elements behave like a supportive infrastructure, helping to protect nature, even when it’s not a part of the man-made infrastructure.

Climatic Resilience

They could strengthen the overall climate resilience with the help of healthy ecosystem services that depend on functional river basins. The experience of the IUCN Global Water Programme that seeks to integrate environment and development has brought forth the combination of four elements that could build climate resilience in practice:

  1. Diversity – more diverse economies, landscapes and livelihoods, are able to withstand shocks better and allow for a faster adaptation to uncertain futures.
  2. Capital & Innovation – bringing built strategy with natural infrastructure optimizes and accelerates performance and financial advantages.
  3. Self Organization – participatory governance and empowerment in adaptive institutions bring about self-organization at the level of origination for successful implementation of ideas.
  4. Knowledge & Learning – education improves climate information and capacity building, enabling people and institutions to recognize and adapt quickly to change, shocks and sudden impacts.

Implementation of Ideas

Steps to adaptation such as developing security measures for protecting water storage, whether engineered or natural infrastructure; should always be executed with a strategy. This strategy should assist and govern “policies, planning, and investment across sectors, including economic planning, poverty reduction strategies, agriculture, energy, and water resources development.”

The “resilience framework” is a practical and demonstrative medium of “mainstreaming climate change in development” and for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

The “global dialogue” on climate shifts and change adaptation must “transition into implementation” and “country-driven-action.” The IUCN Global Water Programme can assist with country-driven implementation for “action on water and climate change” by building upon three fundamental blocks.

To support “country-driven climate change adaptation,” they should take steps to focus on the importance of water management for “reducing vulnerability” and strengthening climate resilience by:

1. “Putting adaptive Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) at the center of planning and investment for climate change adaptation.”

Steps to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses depend on the access and availability of reliable water resources since all mitigation actions require water to function and succeed.

2. “Promoting investment and implementation that incorporates management, restoration, and sustainability of ‘natural infrastructure.”

This comprises the “ecosystem services” gained by healthy and functional watersheds and coasts, and the benefits and advantages they provide for developing climate resilience of the food and energy sectors of countries.

3. “Supporting actions at scale to build climate resilience by combining watershed management, sustainable infrastructure, empowerment and learning through adaptive institutions.”

Water Usage at Ski Resorts and other Winter Sports

To create the ideal surface and experience for snowboarders, skiers and winter sports enthusiasts, resorts often rely heavily on a complicated and energy-sapping infrastructure. This also requires an enormous amount of water further depleting the natural freshwater reserves. Not only does this harm the environment it also incurs a heavy financial burden on the resort owners.

How’s Artificial Snow Made?

They mix large volumes of water and air under high pressure to create artificial snow. Modern snowmaking equipment can use over 100 gallons (455 liters) of water per minute per snow gun! And with many resorts using hundreds of guns, the total water and energy consumption quickly mounts up. As demand increases, they deplete water from surrounding lakes causing damage to the lakes infrastructure and ecosystem.

How Does This Happen?

As a terrifying and catastrophic result of global warming, the present times are witnessing shifting winters globally with minimal snow falls and ever-increasing false springs and progressively shorter winters “with more frequent thawing periods.”

These force ski resorts to make ever-increasing amounts of artificial snow to ensure their clients are happy and they cover the slopes.

The organizers of the 2016 Iditarod, a 1000 mile dog-sledge trek across Alaska, transported snow by train “to compensate“ for snow loss and ensure the trail was adequate for the event.

Inouye observes the increasing concern of ski resorts losing snow in winters resulting in shorter skiing seasons. He expresses concern for the depleting water streams vital for summer recreational activities, such as kayaking, rafting and fishing, and even irrigation for agriculture.

Trenberth points out the role of snow in saving water in seasons like the late springs, reinstating the urgent need for managing water resources.

Climate historian and author of the Discovery of Global Warming, Spencer Weart talks of the sense of “dislocation” people are about to feel due to the changing weather situations. As climate shifts are already occurring everywhere, maybe by the end of this century, the New York City climate becomes something like the present climate of Florida.

In a darkly funny way he asks us to consider a time when Santa might sweat in his red suit while all around him people are wearing shorts!

Climate change is happening as we speak and it will continue to cause dramatic changes to our world unless we unite and take drastic action together.

Stop and Think

The earth as we know it is changing and we are largely to blame for the process of global warming and all the effects that it has so far brought upon us. But it‘s never too late to make a positive impact and bring about change.

If we don’t take action today and take action TOGETHER, it may be too late to save our precious planet for ourselves, our children and the future generations to come.

There are simple things you can do to effect change –

  • Use your car less – try cycling or taking the train or bus to work.
  • Use less plastic or GO ZERO PLASTIC – don’t buy single use plastic bottles. Use non-plastic alternatives.
  • Use natural products with less packaging and try and source products, meat, fish and produce etc. locally.
  • Recycle everything possible – check your town for details of what you can recycle and how.
  • Use glass, stainless steel or bamboo straws and ditch the plastic ones! They usually come with a brush for easy cleaning and a storage case so you can pop them in your purse and take them anywhere you go.
  • Use a collapsible or insulated travel cup for your morning coffee and say no to the plastic or cardboard ones (just because they’re made out of card doesn’t mean they are or will be recycled).
  • Use a metal water bottle and ditch the plastic water bottles or water holders. The metal will keep your water cool, is easy to clean and will last for ages.
  • Use glass storage jars in the kitchen instead of plastic containers.
  • Use beeswax wraps instead of cling wrap. They are easy to store and come in a range of delightful designs and colors.
  • Bulk buy products and decant them into your own jars or containers – you can do this for food items and beauty and personal care products like shampoos and shower gels too. Buying in bulk will save you money too!
  • Get a compost bin and a mini compost bucket (non-plastic of course!) to sit in your kitchen for food scraps and other items such as tea and egg shells. You’ll be surprised just how much you can compost. For greater convenience use biodegradable compost bags in your kitchen bucket, when full simply pop them straight into your compost bin. Home Composting Made Easy has a host of information on what you can and what you shouldn’t compost.
  • Look for products and items which have been sustainably made using materials such as bamboo for example. You’ll be surprised just what can be made from bamboo from toothbrushes to toilet tissue and cloths for cleaning. And the great part is that after you’ve finished it can either be recycled or composted.
  • If you own a dog use poop bags that are biodegradable or degradable, bowls made out of metal or bamboo, toys made of sustainable rubber and hemp rope. Look out for hemp or bamboo leashes and collars and eco friendly pet beds too.
  • Cats, birds and small animals all have products that are eco-friendly too so, before you shop, take a minute to look at how the product was made, what it’s made from (remember no plastic if you can) and where it was made.
  • If you have children get them involved too. Check out the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle a fantastic resource for teaching children about the importance of recycling and the environment. Our children are the future custodians of this planet and if we continue to abuse it they will grow up to find the oceans filled with more plastic than fish and that climate change has devastated crops and many more animals have become extinct. But don’t despair there is a lot you can do.
  • Buy local and buy US made where possible.

Want to know more about how you can help? Check out these great sites for more easy hints on how you can help turn the tide on global warming.

Going Zero Waste is a fantastic, easy to use site explaining the ideology and offering tips and tricks on how to change to a life with less waste in it. From simple swaps such as taking your own reusable vegetable bags and string bags to the grocery store, to discovering other ways of saving on packaging and saving the planet.  Or pick-up Kathryn Kellogg’s brilliant book – 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste.

The Energy Saver site has a wealth of information about how to save energy in the home; savings for the environment and for you!

Read Beth Terry’s wealth of knowledge and get helpful hints and tips on her fantastic site My Plastic Free Life if you want to learn more about her plastic free revolution read her book Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too.

References

https://www.livescience.com/37057-global-warming-effects.html

https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/water-and-climate-change

https://www.thoughtco.com/ski-resorts-and-the-environment-1203969

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/permafrost-everything-you-need-know

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201901

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264531138_The_False_Spring_of_2012_Earliest_in_North_American_Record

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/08/03/488400947/anthrax-outbreak-in-russia-thought-to-be-result-of-thawing-permafrost?t=1556720678335

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