'Term' Limits

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March 14, 2008

A week or so ago, I was starting to tell my husband about a report I’d heard on NPR on what I was calling “global warming” when he interrupted me. “Say ‘climate change’ instead,” he suggested, explaining that naysayers are more than happy to point out that cold spells continue to happen, so the world couldn’t possibly be warming up, now could it? He’s probably right about not making it any easier to dismiss a phenomenon that could doom us all.

Soon after, I was reading about a study investigating the “Easter Freeze” of April 5–9, 2007, in the eastern United States; the study’s results implicated an unusually warm March, which preceded the freeze, in the destruction of plants and crops throughout the region. Turns out, the balmy weather coaxed the plants into sending out tender sprouts two to three weeks earlier than normal. “The warm weather was as much a culprit for the damage as the cold,” said the study’s lead author, Lianhong Gu, of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Gu described as a “paradox” the finding that mild winters and warm, early springs make plants particularly vulnerable to late-season frosts. It’s only when you look beyond easy distinctions that you can see the bigger picture a paradox is revealing to you.

I’m making every effort to say “climate change” when I’m linking global temperature shifts with shrinking glaciers and swarming mosquitoes. At the same time, I’m hoping people give up sticking to either-or thinking when it comes to something as susceptible to multiple variables as the world’s climate. It’s a matter of survival.