The phoebes have returned this year. After several years absence, they have built their nest on top of the front porch light, a sturdy cup of mud, twigs, and fluff, high enough to escape the cats, who watch hopefully for hours, but finally accept defeat. Summer is sliding into the farm in bits and pieces, first 80 degree days, then disappears for days at a time. The mild weather in January and February, confused the fruit trees, forced the catalpa into early bloom and primed the crepe myrtle. After the cold nights in April, I sense the confusion when I work around the yard, “Is this weather going to last, or should we wait another month to bloom?” From my mother, I learned to talk to the plants and they often answer.
Confusing weather patterns seem to be our new normal. Climate change models from weather research centers project global temperature increases of 1.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius by the end of the century as the most positive probablility with more pessimistic projections based on current levels of consumption. A six-degree rise in global temperatures is now seen as likely if no changes are made in the use of fossil fuels. Scientists and perceptive political world leaders are actively looking for preventive actions that would protect from some of the known effects of continuing global warming.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has developed plans to adapt his city to rising sea levels and is preparing to spend more than $1 billion in protection projects. New York City has 520 miles of coastlines; most vulnerable to flooding is the underground subway and transit system, with much of the city’s power lines and communication systems buried in the same underground infrastructure.
Other countries are also focused on building protective barriers. The Netherlands and England have built barriers, Italy is building an elaborate dike system to protect Venice. Russia is building a barrier system for St. Petersburg. Geophysical scientists are actively studying a model of climate engineering that would imitate the effect of temperature change that occurred when Mount Pinatubo, a volcano in the Phillippines, erupted in 1991. Three weeks after the eruption, a plume of gas and ash had circled the earth, remaining for nearly two years. The reflections of the sun’s rays caused a drop of global temperature of roughly 3/4 of a degree Celsius. Scientists are considering whether a injection of sulfur dioxide particles in the upper atmosphere would lower temperatures enough to buy time for the earth to restabilize into a livable planet. Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist, with the Carnegie Institute, and part of an I.P.C.C. team that won a Nobel Peace Prize, says “We don’t know how bad this is going to get, and we don’t know when it is going to get bad. But we had better get ready, because we are running rapidly toward a minefield.”
As I watch summer unfolding here on the farm, I think about the loss of our world. Night falls softly, lightning bugs drift up from the clover fields, a net of sparking twinkles in the dark. Honey suckle and cut hay perfume the dark air. A sleepy quail calls “bob white” from the valley. I say a prayer that we can use our evolving intelligence to see the future and protect this earth for our children.