Season Creep

Season Creep

The Cherry Blossom Festival is held each year in Vancouver from March 24th to April 17th, and starts with a concert at Burrard Station downtown in the park surrounded by cherry blossoms. In full bloom, the blossoms are so thick they block the sky from underneath the trees. Except that this year in Vancouver it felt like spring arrived three weeks early. The first cherry blossoms outside my apartment arrived on February 25th, by early March they were in full bloom, and by the time the Cherry Blossom Festival started, the blossoms were all gone. 

Left: blossoms arriving in February in Vancouver, right: in full bloom by March – several weeks early.

The slow creep of spring arriving earlier and earlier each year is one of the more noticeable and (for me at least) disconcerting impacts from climate change. In Vancouver, it felt like Christmas was only just over before shoots started appearing in gardens, however spring creep doesn’t only have impacts on the scheduling of festivals or your garden daffodils. The impact on people’s health from increased pollen allergies and the economy for farmers is severe.

The early arrival of spring plants from temperature changes can put entire systems out of synch with animals that take their cues from longer daylight hours, meaning the blossoms may be all gone by the time the bees turn up to pollinate. This is potentially disastrous for crops that require pollination or more delicate crops that could be harmed by a late frost, and can even put crops at risk from different pests when growing early. 

However, the visibility of spring arriving earlier can be a potential opening for conversations about climate change that are not necessarily about climate change. Some of the best ways to engage people who do not identify as concerned about climate change, or who may resist being labeled an ‘environmentalist’ is to talk about experienced seasonal changes and weather ‘weirding’.

Conversations about early spring in the context of being worried about unusual trends and experienced impacts can politically defuse ‘talking about climate’ by allowing people to share their experiences and acknowledge concerns without having to pick a climate change ‘team’. Climate Access has a tip sheet on how to talk about seasonal impacts here.

Early blooming plants and flowers also have the impact of increasing the amount of pollen in the air as well as lengthening the pollen season, or as I’m sure you may call it – the allergy season. For those of us who suffer seasonal pollen allergies, the early onset of spring means an earlier onset of sniffles, a frustrating inability to breathe, and a household shortage of tissues.

This year in the Pacific Northwest, we were lucky with an El Niño that provided more snow than rain on the mountains for a great ski season. Coming off the back of several poor seasons, including last winter’s worst season in 100 years for the mountains around Vancouver, the trend of shorter and warmer winters is already observable to many. In the United States, recent Gallup polling showed that 63% of Americans noticed a warmer winter this year and that many of them who experienced a warmer winter attribute it to global warming.

Whether your interest lies in minimizing hay fever, planting your garden at the right time, or protecting the ski season, there are many opportunities to connect with audiences on climate impacts in a way that is rooted in experience rather than politics or ideology.

images via (cc) Amy Huva