Flowers in February: WNC’s Changing Climate

It’s a beautiful, sunny spring day in Western North Carolina. Maybe you’re out for a hike or first-of-the-year paddle, or getting a head start on your garden by planting those first sweet peas and lettuce seeds. The first days of Spring should be occasion for celebration, but not so this year–because warmer days are coming a full two months earlier than they should. Sometimes the evidence of our shifting climate and the dangers it poses to our natural and human environments is blatant; like the unprecedented wildfires raging through our mountains last summer. So far this year, the effects of global climate change may be more pleasant, but they’re no less damaging; and with the climate-harming policies we’re seeing coming out of the Whitehouse and Congress these days, it seems like there’s no relief in sight.  In the past 30 days 6,096 new daily high temperature records were set over across the U.S., according to the along with 5,174 record warm low temperatures. These swinging temperatures spell possible disaster for fruit growers across the country and Western North Carolina, as we can typically expect freezes until May 15 Local farmer Janet Peterson of Cloud 9 Farm in Fletcher is being impacted by the changing climate year round:

“We’re still feeling the effects from the drought that started last year, we just haven’t gotten enough rain. Last year I lost about 1/3 of the blueberries I planted to drought. Right now my blueberries are 3 weeks ahead of schedule; they’ve come out of dormancy and buds are swelling and I have to start watering them much earlier than normal. We received a grant to extend our irrigation system for raspberries through the WNC Ag Options because a wet March just isn’t happening.”

And it’s not just her crops that are disrupted by the early Spring.

“The honeybees are also coming out of dormancy several weeks early due to the warm weather, and there’s not enough food out for them as many flowers aren’t blooming. They’re out flying on these warm days gathering Maple pollen and eating up their winter stores, so I’m having to feed some of my bees.  I’m even hearing reports of bees swarming to start new hives, which shouldn’t be happening until April and I’ve never heard of it this early.” 

Scientists have long agreed that climate change is happening now, and is being caused by human activity; namely the large-scale burning of fossil fuels for energy. The Southeast is an epicenter for climate change impacts, from 1980-2012 our region has experienced more billion-dollar weather disasters than the rest of the country combined: Drought, hurricanes, record rainfall, heat waves and the associated flooding, crop loss, property damage, wildfires and loss of human life. Scientists are also very clear  that unless we curb the amount of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, things are only going to get worse. Storms and droughts will be more extreme, our farmers will no longer be able to grow the crops they’re used to and we’ll start losing serious ground in our coastal cities to sea level rise. It’s likely that if we don’t reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from 400 parts per billion to around 350 ppb, we risk “triggering tipping points and irreversible impacts that could send climate change spinning truly beyond our control”. While we can all take individual steps to lower our carbon footprint, the magnitude of change needed to avoid global climate disaster will require significant commitments from industrialized countries to move toward fossil-free means of power generation. Many world leaders have risen to the occasion, making serious commitments to energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy and backing those commitments up with investments to drive quick growth in the clean energy sector. The United States, unfortunately, has lagged behind and the current Administration and Congress are poised to widen the gap and put us further behind in the struggle to maintain a livable planet.  At a time when we need visionary leadership to avoid more climate disasters, our Representatives are putting forth bills like H.R. 637 “Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017“, that prevents the EPA from regulating climate change-causing greenhouse gasses by stating they are not air pollutants and requires the EPA to analyze the net impact of regulations on employment. This scare-tactic rationale pitting the economy against the environment is downright wrong: economists have found no clear evidence that regulations have a net negative effect on jobs and have actually found that the economic value health and other benefits of protecting our air and water quality, not to mention stabilizing the climate, far outweigh the costs. More now than ever, we all have a duty to call out to our lawmakers that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and we’re all going to all going to pay the price. 

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.