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Everyone’s a NIMBY Now

May 11, 2012

Being a NIMBY is, for the most part, considered a bad thing. It stands for Not in My Backyard!, the cry of people who are concerned only with their own little bubble and not the world at large. In some cases, the epithet is earned, such as those who complain about off-shore wind turbines messing up the ocean views from their multi-million dollar houses. (I’m looking at you, Robert F. Kennedy Jr). There are other times when as a label, “NIMBY” is unfair at best and oppressive at worst, such as when it’s used towards low-income people who are protesting against more chemical processing plants or incinerators in their neighborhoods. But there’s one issue on which everyone is, or should be, a NIMBY these days – climate change. Because it’s in some of our backyards already and will be soon for those who aren’t seeing it yet.

Personally, I’m seeing the effects of climate change it in my garden. Last year, I had miserable luck raising seedlings by hand inside. This year, I’ve found that this really isn’t my forte. But my bad results in the garden have gone far beyond the plants in our spare bedroom this year.

First, very few of the seeds I’ve planted outside have come up, even though I’ve seeded them multiple times in a number of ways – pre-sprouting them, planting them in seeding soil, planting them in Leafgro, planting them in potting soil. (I don’t plant them right into the ground because there are several inches of rotting leaves in our garden between the surface and “proper ground” as a result of lasagna gardening. As our soil is very clay-heavy, I doubt it would help anyway.) Being as my methods were the same or even better than last year, I thoroughly place the blame on the weather. This March was incredibly hot everywhere in the U.S. – it set more than 15,000 high-temperature records. In fact, it was the hottest March on record, a full 8.6 degrees F warmer than the 20th century average for March in the U.S. At least in D.C. (and apparently Connecticut), it was also very dry, making it extremely difficult to keep the soil wet enough for seeds to germinate. We watered them some, but what they really needed was consistent, light rain that March usually provides.

Second, my few super-star seedlings completely failed because the weather was too unpredictable. I didn’t want to plant them when it was hot because I thought they would wilt. I purposely planted them before it rained so that they’d get the water they so desperately needed. But it hadn’t rained in so long that when it did, it was torrential. Then the temperature dropped nearly 40 degrees, from the 80s down to near freezing. So if the rain didn’t drown my seedlings, the cold shocked them. Either way, they died. I could have done more to protect them from the cold (like hot cloches), but I don’t know if they would have survived the rain. Weather in March and April always has a level of unpredictability, but the swings in temperature and precipitation are usually not this drastic or chaotic.

Third, even the seedlings I bought from the farmers’ market are doing poorly. The weather has been tough on them to an extent, but they’re not nearly so fragile as the ones I raised myself. No, it’s the bugs that are getting them. My pepper plants have holes in them from something unknown and my garden is crawling with slugs. As experts predicted, the warm weather has brought insects out in force much earlier.

Now I don’t blame every little thing on climate change. In fact, I think it’s impossible to tie any particular weather event to climate change. But if there’s one impact climate change will have, it is that weather patterns will become more extreme and chaotic, just as they have been recently. While natural variation will always exist, climate change will raise the likelihood of extreme events, whether they are droughts, floods, or heat waves. As this nifty video explains, climate change has the same effect on extreme weather conditions as steroids have on home runs in baseball – they’d happen without it, but the steroids make them occur much more often.

In addition, climate change will fundamentally and permanently change weather patterns. In fact, the USDA has already had to revise their Plant Hardiness Zone Map to reflect changes that have already occurred! Needless to say, I’m not the only one growing food for whom this is an issue. The U.S. Global Change Research Program has a good run-down of the effects on agriculture in the U.S., while Oxfam has some good descriptions of impacts around the world. Of course, there’s also the great exhibit on climate change and native communities I went to at the Museum of the American Indian.

So in this case, being a NIMBY against climate change is a good thing. Because if you don’t see it now, you will soon. You’ll see it in your brown grass, fried by the sun and unable to run the sprinkler it because of restrictions caused by drought. You’ll see it at the beach, where increased chances of hurricanes and red tides can screw up your vacation. You’ll see it hunting and fishing with changes in animal ranges and diversity. You’ll feel it in your sinuses with ragweed pollen increasing with warmer temperatures.

You’ll see the effects of climate change everywhere. Because it’s already in our backyards and it’s only going to become worse unless we work together. In comparison, those wind turbines seem like a pretty good part of the view.

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