Friday, August 26, 2011

What happens to a suburban dream deferred?

What happens when there isn't enough water to sustain a landscape? Does it shrivel up in the sun until there's nothing left? What about suburban populations faced with the realities of an arid climate met by climate change?

Photo via NPR.

We caught two harrowing NPR morning edition segments on the drought in Texas today. One discussed the effect the drought is having on local ecologies. The earth is dry so the plants are dry, so insect populations are decimated, so the bat colonies don't have anything to eat, and squirrels and deer don't have enough milk to feed their babies, and on and on. Desert ecosystems are fragile, supporting life with severely limited resources. Human development is one of the main causes of desertification, and the Southwest experienced a boom in population growth in the last decade.
Areas in red are high vulnerability of desertification. Credit USDA.

Texas started recording meteorological data in 1895 and in 116 years, this is the driest it's ever been. This year has been marked by extreme weather across the states, from a record-breaking snowstorm in the northeast last winter, to the record-breaking heatwave in July, to the hurricane currently approaching the east coast.

As climate change progresses over the next century, extreme weather will become far more frequent. We've had above-average yearly rainfall in New York City every year for the past 10 years. At the same time, the West is getting drier. Our climate is polarizing, and these changes are going to take a toll on wildlife across the board as it struggles to adapt biologies developed over thousands of years within the span of a few decades. One might think it would be easier for humans to adjust our consumptive industries and aggressive colonization customs, but perhaps the instincts behind these habits are as much a product of evolution as the drought-tolerant nature of Sunset Hyssop (native to Arizona and New Mexico).

Agastache rupestris is a fragrant member of the mint family and a hummingbird favorite. Photo via.

Native plant shout-out accomplished, I wish you a good (and safe) weekend.

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