The Washington Post

Climate change: The spring jailbreak of 2012

[Update: You have to read Jason Samenow’s blog post on the unbelievable number of all-time record high temperatures set in recent days across North America. Jason is a cautious guy about linking climate and weather but this one looks to Jason like a signal of climate change.]

There is supposed to be a certain orderly progression of the seasons. The vernal equinox happens at the moment determined far in advance by astronomers observing the motion of the celestial spheres and calculating their trajectories. Forsythia precedes the camelias. The redbuds precede the cherry trees. Bluebells do not bloom until the second week of April. This is the natural order to which we are adapted. Thus I am confused, and a bit alarmed, by what I witness from the porch bureau of the blog: A spring jailbreak of flora and fauna.

View Photo Gallery: We tapped readers to share photos of spring’s arrival on Instagram, using the hash tag #springscape. The result was a vibrant, flower-filled collection of photos. Here are some of our favorites.

The tulips are already in flower, weeks ahead of schedule. The apple tree has blossomed. The cherry trees have peaked and we’re only a couple of days past the equinox. And the birds are as chattery already as they usually are on the first of May. It’s a bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion of nature out there, and even if we cannot incontrovertibly ascribe this to climate change (the jet stream is the proximate cause), we can nod our heads when someone says that this is what climate change looks like.

Also, there are these dang invasive species, namely the stink bugs. And the tiger mosquitoes. And the english ivy and the dandelions. We need the stink bugs to eat the english ivy and the tiger mosquitoes to eat the dandelions, or some such combination of invaders canceling each other out.

There is legitimate debate about what’s the best way to combat climate change, but it’s unfortunate that we spend so much time listening to people claim that there’s no such thing as global warming, that it’s some kind of hoax by nefarious scientists who think the way to get ahead in their profession is to make up a bunch of stuff that’s not true. What worries me is our inability to think long-term — and this gets back to what we were talking about just a few days ago. How can you take on a problem as daunting as climate change when you can’t solve a fundamentally easy problem like crafting a sensible federal budget?

I guess I should go plant my corn now. Normally I’d wait, but not this year. And normally my corn is a postmodern quotation of a cornfield — you know, it’s not corn, it’s “corn.” But this year I’m thinking I’ll make some ethanol. Do my part for the planet (um, can you drink it???).

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."


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