Spring is getting to the point where so much is happening that it is almost impossible to keep track unless I make notes every day. Which I don’t. But, in the last two weeks, the swallows and herons and flickers have arrived so I guess we can call that the second or maybe third wave depending on how you count. The lilacs, cranberries, redbuds, and cherries are all at, nearing, or just past peak bloom. The Canada anemone is now a complete mat, the lawn grass is 5+ inches in areas, bleeding hearts have peaked, shooting stars are ready to launch, ferns are unfurling and, thankfully, the weather has cooled off with the last week returning to temps in the 50s during the daytime.
Unfortunately for some of the fruitcrop growers in the region, the early freakish spring warm allowed fruit trees and vines to flower and now, not surprisingly, we are facing frosts in low-lying areas in the earliest hours of the morning.
This could, of course, negatively impact harvests if the frost destroys a significant percent of the fruitcrop flowers. In the greater scheme of things, one dismal harvest will probably not affect much but if by 2030 this happens three out of five years, will any of the growers be able to stay in business? Are they already trying to grow varieties in which the actual flower is frost-hardy? Has anyone even developed cultivars in which the actual flower is frost-hardy?
Of course, by 2030, this might pale in comparison with other challenges we will all face but everything is connected. And despite the fact that the Upper Midwest faces less apparent risks from climate change than other parts of the country such as the Southeast, Southwest and Mountain West, it is hard to imagine what the secondary and tertiary impacts of these strange springs might be. And this is where current projections might fall apart. The frozen fruit flowers are an excellent case study. Currently, we all mostly perceive this as a case of cause and effect, or if-then, if we consider the origins of fruit at all. Plants flower and then we get fruit.
But what if this regularly gets decoupled? I guess it will or is, rather, forcing us to remember that the pathway from flower to fruit is not a simple linear system but rather a complex system that is impacted by many factors such as temperature, rainfall, humidity, disease, and pollinator availability. What other ecological processes do we rely on that could face regular failure in an age of climate change? What will we do when a bad year doesn’t mean a yield 8% below average but 80% below average?
Will we change our behavior so that we transfer our reliance to more resilient systems? For example, we could all eat more leafy, hardy, perennial greens rather than fruit. More sorrel, less cherries? Similarly, if our coldwater fisheries fail will we happily train our palates from trout to carp? Both of these examples seem unlikely but at least they are semi-replacable processes.
And if we have semi-replacable processes then logic would suggest that there are non-replaceable processes. And this is where it could get really scary. What if the trees don’t leaf out in springtime in a particular region? I have no idea how this might happen (shitload of tornados during a wet spring with a new, invasive exotic leaf fungus) but I am pretty certain that the more we destabilise the climate, the more we will see non-replaceable ecological processes fall apart and the more profound the impact on society.