Cherry Blossoms: Ideal indicators of the impacts of climate change?

Cherry blossoms in washington dcLike much of the country, spring arrived surprisingly early in Washington D.C. this year. In fact, I didn’t feel like we had a real winter at all. A born and bred Midwesterner, I am used to freezing temperatures, down jackets and snow – lots of it. This year’s unusually warm winter in D.C. and around the country was puzzling for many of us. In fact, D.C.’s iconic cherry blossoms bloomed much earlier this year, which was attributed to the unseasonably warm temperature.

Scientists from the University of Washington featured in the Washington Post have theorized that with the earth undergoing a warming trend, cherry blossoms could begin to bloom in January instead of February, resulting in a peak bloom of early March rather than April. The scientists said that the Tidal Basin’s cherry blossoms are “ideal indicators of the impacts of climate change.” While it might not seem like that big of a deal that the blossoms are blooming earlier, it can have a large economic and cultural impact on the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

This year the five-week festival kicked off on March 20, but by the end of the first week, the blossoms were already falling from the trees.  We can only wonder when the cherry blossoms will bloom next year.

Scientists reminded us earlier this week that the effects of global warming are on the cusp of becoming irreversible. The world’s temperature is projected to rise by six degrees Celsius by 2100 if greenhouses gases emissions are not significantly reduced. But, in fact, emissions continue to increase, and, the world inches closer to the tipping point.

So, what can we do? As I’ve mentioned in other posts, it is critical to the safety and financial stability of communities and ecosystems that we work to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to limit further warming, and begin preparing for the effects of the changing climate that is already upon us. In our “new normal,” it’s likely that we will experience higher temperatures, changes in precipitation resulting in more droughts and floods, and a general shift towards more extreme weather events.

Earlier this week, the Obama Administration took a positive step forward by releasing a new greenhouse gas rule for power plants that will help us to meet international goals to reduce such emissions. There are also things we as a national community can do to prepare for more extreme weather and a changing climate.

Adapting to our new normal by using water more efficiently and installing green infrastructure will help to conserve water, decrease polluted runoff and improve air quality, among others. Working to protect and restore the forests, wetlands and rivers that help to provide clean water and slow floods will make all of our communities more resilient in a changing climate.

Vacation plans to visit the Nation’s capital a little earlier to see the cherry blossoms is a simple form of climate adaptation. Conserving our water resources is a much greater challenge. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions with rules like those released today will help, but is no substitute for the preparation necessary to make your community and mine more resilient in our new normal.