By: Rachel Wachman (Print Editor-in-Chief)
You may have noticed that there’s been a remarkable lack of snow this winter.
Massachusetts is not the only state experiencing an unseasonable warmth. In fact, winters around the world are warmer than average, raising many environmental and economic concerns. The culprit? Climate change.
“Carbon dioxide levels have passed 400ppm for the first time in human history, and along with other greenhouse gases, it is trapping heat in our atmosphere and warming the planet,” said Ms. Rachel Byrne, a science teacher at Sharon High School.
“While isolated warm days here and there are not indicators of climate change on their own, the overall pattern that we are seeing confirms what climate scientists have been warning us about for decades now,” added Byrne. “While New England has not been one of the areas most severely impacted by rising temperatures, there is a clear trend of warmer winters.”
According to Weather.com, the East has been dominated by a ridge of high pressure for most of this winter, leaving some areas with temperatures at least five degrees above average. “Although there have been blasts of colder air from time to time, below-average temperatures have not typically lasted for more than a couple of days.”
Overall, the planet has warmed by an average of 1 degree Celsius/1.8 degrees Farenheit over the past few decades. “Although a few degrees doesn’t seem like much, you have to consider what this means on the scale of the entire planet,” said SHS senior and climate activist Sebastian Armstrong. “Just consider the fact that when the earth was only a few degrees cooler, there were glaciers thousands of feet high right here in Sharon.”
Should the average warming exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, there could be extreme and irreversible consequences, warns the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“The six hottest years in human history have all occurred within the last decade, and extremely warm winter weather is just another example in this trend,” added Armstrong. “This winter has been one of the warmest winters on record. Russia, for example, hasn’t seen temperatures this high in 133 years.”
“Climate change is not a problem of the future,” wrote Peter Fenteany in the article “Signal Boost: Warmer Winter Will Warp Our World” from dailycampus.com. “At present, it is subtly changing the way we live and many are struggling to keep up. In particular, people who rely on the changing seasons for their business or livelihood are feeling the early effects of climate change first.”
Armstrong says he is worried about the next eleven years: “Climate scientists worldwide say it is the time we have left to get to zero-emissions. The decisions made in the next few years will change the lives of generations living thousands of years from now.”
“If we stop emitting carbon soon, we will avoid some of the worst case scenarios,” said Byrne.
Already, many people are feeling the very real consequences of warmer winters and climate change in their daily lives. For instance, climate change puts seasonal and outdoor economies at risk across the United States as weather conditions continue to shift, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. This includes “impacts on economies centered around coral reef-based recreation, winter recreation, and inland water-based recreation. In turn, this affects the well-being of the people who make their living supporting these economies, including rural, coastal, and Indigenous communities.”
“Atlantic cod have been a staple food for people in New England, and an important part of our economy,” said Byrne. “As ocean temperatures rise, those cod are migrating hundreds of miles north in search of cooler water. This means Massachusetts fishermen will not be able to find them, and we lose both a food product for our own use and a major export that brings money into our economy.”
People living in the North, especially in Alaska, have already noticed serious effects of climate change. “The destruction of our subdivision by thawing permafrost had accelerated noticeably over the last 10 years. Our apartment was becoming unlivable. Roads at an increasing rate are collapsing because of thawing permafrost,” Jeff Pederson, who moved from Alaska to Minnesota as a result of the warming, told NPR.
Insects are also a concern. “Insect pest species that have not historically been able to survive our harsh winters now can, and cause damage to trees,” said Byrne. “Not only that, New England’s economy gets a large influx of tourism dollars in the fall and winter from people wanting to see the dramatic fall foliage and then to ski. Predictions are that climate change will lead to later, less dramatic color change in the fall, and dramatically shorter ski season.”
The warmer winters have also altered allergies for many people. “The allergies here have always been bad, but once there was a respite of a few months during winter. Now there is no time when they’re not active,” said Olkahoma resident Kym Chaffin in an interview with NPR.
“The reality is that the climate crisis is personal and affects everyone differently,” said Armstrong. “We all have something to lose to the climate crisis. Many of us living in Sharon today are really lucky to not need to worry about sea level rise, forest fires, or the cancer causing pollution from burning fossil fuels. However, many people are fighting these issues right now day after day, and we too have our future, our jobs, and our lives on the line.”
“However, I still have hope, because we are rising up as a generation and demanding that we deserve a future,” said Armstrong. “I know that our voices matter because the fossil fuel billionaires who have attempted to cover up the climate crisis are scared – scared because of the power and potential we have to make real change.”