A change in the weather, a change in anything, is hard to contain. Like a stack of Pick-up-sticks, pull at one and the whole pile might collapse.
When we first moved into this house, what we most loved was the setting: streets of modest homes shaded by towering oaks and tall pines. Our lot had a big oak in the front yard and a good-sized maple tree shading the side porch. The other three corners at this intersection supported even bigger oaks. Crows congregated on the topmost branches, loudly commenting on current affairs in bird world.
Our backyard, on the other hand, was open and sunny. Perfect for a garden, but only thanks to our next door neighbor who had taken down a big maple shortly before we moved in. Never having been acquainted with that tree, we didn’t mourn it. But we’d hardly unpacked the moving boxes and arranged the furniture before the neighbor across the street took out three massive oaks. That made us sad.
In the fourteen years we’ve been here, storms and tree crews have toppled more of these giants. A small house across the street from us changed hands and the new owner clear cut the front yard. Bye-bye seven pine trees. (The house has since changed hands again but no one has replaced the pines, not even with a pseudo tree like the Bradford pear.)
I mourn the gaps in the canopy where trees once stood: the corner up the street where a county crew cut down an oak so broad the trunk grew into the street; the new house addition that required the death of a magnificent oak tree whose branches shaded two properties; ghostly outlines where storms brought ancient residents crashing down. After each big storm, more of the human residents hire crews with rigging and chain saws to slice up and cart off the giants in their yards.
Our last storm uprooted multiple large oaks. They took down power lines as they thudded to the ground and blocked streets and smashed houses. We lost half our maple tree. It scratched our old car and poked a hole in the porch screen but it missed the power lines. (Dominion Energy regularly and severely trims any branches even remotely threatening the power lines.)
After a storm like that one, a sensible person might seriously consider cutting down any trees within striking distance of his roof. We decided to take our chances, even though we can expect more storms like that, more storms strong enough to pull big oaks up by their roots and lay them out flat on the ground. And more neighbors pre-emptively cutting down trees. The streets will be hotter and brighter every summer. The crows will have to fly further and further between perches.
Tropical storms and hurricanes have become more intense during the past 20 years. Of course, the wind has had help in its destruction. Stronger thunderstorms with heavier rains saturate the ground, making it more likely roots will give way.
So we don’t get to have as many trees all because someone two hundred or so years ago decided to power machines with burning coal. And someone else decided that diesel powered engines were more convenient to rotate carriage wheels than a team of horses. Horseless carriages were such a good idea, in fact, that everyone wanted one and then we needed to pave roads and clear land for big parking lots. “The U.S. is covered in about 4 million miles of roads. And while that’s only a fraction of a percent of the total land area in the lower 48 states, it’s still enough to have a noticeable impact on the environment–from heat islands, to floods, to pollution runoff in nearby waterways.”
Our climate is changing because the earth is warming. People have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by 40 percent since the late 1700s. Other heat- trapping greenhouse gases are also increasing. These gases have warmed the surface and lower atmosphere of our planet about one degree during the last 50 years. Evaporation increases as the atmosphere warms, which increases humidity, average rainfall, and the frequency of heavy rainstorms in many places—but contributes to drought in others.
Greenhouse gases are also changing the world’s oceans and ice cover. Carbon dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid, so the oceans are becoming more acidic. The surface of the ocean has warmed about one degree during the last 80 years. Warming is causing snow to melt earlier in spring, and mountain glaciers are retreating. Even the great ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are shrinking. Thus the sea is rising at an increasing rate.
We humans have had a lot of good ideas.
Plastic bottles! Light-weight! Unbreakable! Much better than the old glass bottles you had to return for the deposit. But now plastic bottles are everywhere — in the ditches along the roads, filling up landfills, floating in the ocean. We are drinking micro-plastics with our bottled water (and sometimes tap water) and eating micro-plastics in our sushi. And that wonderful polar fleece made from recycled plastic bottles? Laundering fleece frees micro-plastics.
We have changed so much so fast we can’t even keep track of the changes.
Spraying to kill mosquitoes means the birds and bats have less to eat so we see fewer birds and bats. Large swaths of mono-crops replace cycles of flowering native plants that fed the bees so we have fewer bees.
GMO’s, super refined flour, preservatives in food, factory raised meats, food crops raised on chemically fertilized depleted soil. Sedentary lifestyles of desk jobs, elevators, binge-TV-watching, no fresh air. Isolation from others exacerbated by social media.
What are the unintended consequences?
Does any of this matter? How can we tell? Who gets to decide?
This is all very far from a controlled experiment. Too many things are changing at once. We often can’t predict whether, in the long run, Progress and Improvement are good or bad. What’s coming down the pike? We can make out part of it but the rest is a guess.