2006 in many ways was the year of recognition that global climate change is not a liberal fantasy. Thanks in no small measure to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and to incontrovertible evidence that the Earth is changing, it became harder and harder to deny the reality of climate change. This was the year that global warming deniers changed their tactic from “it can’t be proved” to “maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all” and “we don’t know exactly what’s causing it.” Ah, progress.
I promise there’s a gardening angle below the fold…
Most of the government agencies whose charge is to research climate change and develop and implement policy in this area (for ex., FWS, USDA, NOAA, NASA, EPA, etc.) have been looking away for the last six years, addressing the situation only with weasel words and ambivalent, meaningless declarations. Appointed by Bush to do his bidding, most of these agency’s administrators squelch any respectable science and research that their scientists might be producing. (Remember Dr. Hansen from NASA? who was being silenced by a 24-year-old NASA employee, a former Bush campaign worker and college dropout with no scientific background?) Agency scientists must walk a fine line between doing their jobs and making their commander in chief look like a moron for refusing to mandate his oil and gas company buddies to take reasonable steps to decrease such an obvious threat as global climate change.
The USDA (Dep’t of Agriculture) is important to gardeners and farmers for many reasons, not least of which is that it creates and maintains the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Your growing zone (I’m in 6a) and its accompanying average annual minimum temperature (-5 to -10 degrees F in 6a) determine what plants are hardy in your area (notwithstanding the vagaries of microclimates). In other words, Zone 9 plants likely won’t survive in Zone 6 climates.
Or will they? The USDA’s map was last updated in 1990, and the agency is supposedly working on a revision. Will the revised map reflect the reality of climate change? And will it mean that I can grow avocados in Rhode Island after all?
The National Arbor Day Foundation got tired of waiting. They figured they could analyze data just as well as the government, so they took a look at 15 years of climate data gathered by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) research stations across the US. The result is a NEW HARDINESS ZONE MAP!!
You have to check this out. In addition to the new map, they provide lots of cool comparative data, including a map that shows how zones changed in relationship to the 1990 USDA map, and there’s even a nifty animation that very effectively illustrates what has changed. You can also search for your growing zone by zip code.
As for climate change, the organization’s press release notes that:
The new map reflects that many areas have become warmer since 1990 when the last USDA hardiness zone map was published. Significant portions of many states have shifted at least one full hardiness zone. Much of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, for example, have shifted from Zone 5 to a warmer Zone 6. Some areas around the country have even warmed two full zones. (emphasis mine)
The new 2006 arborday.org Hardiness Zone Map is consistent with the consensus of climate scientists that global warming is underway. Tree planting is among the positive actions that people can take to reverse the trend.
My corner of Rhode Island doesn’t look to have changed any, though a small coastal area has changed from Zone 6 to Zone 7. Nearby Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have increased from Zone 5 to Zone 7!
I don’t know whether to plant an avocado tree, or cry.
As for the USDA’s Hardiness Zone Map, no word on when its revision will be completed or whether it will show that US climate is indeed changing. If it does, how will BushCo continue to defend its stance against regulating climate change?
No doubt with more weasel words. Last week, the Department of the Interior moved to place the polar bear on the endangered species list, because its habitat (ice) is slowly disappearing. Hmmm, wouldn’t that seem to imply that global climate change is a threat? No, not exactly, according to the agency’s chief:
But in a conference call with reporters, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said that although his decision to seek protection for polar bears acknowledged the melting of the Arctic ice, his department was not taking a position on why the ice was melting or what to do about it.
On second thought, forget the avocado tree. I’ll plant some red maple seedlings, and pray.
Image courtesy of the National Arbor Day Foundation.