Year 3, Month 5, Day 12: Not Phrenology, Phenology

USA Today runs an article on phenology. Ominous:

As the climate warms, many plants are flowering 8.5 times sooner than experiments had predicted, raising questions for the world’s future food and water supply, a new international study concludes.

Higher carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels can affect how plants produce oxygen, and higher temperatures can alter their behavior. Shifts in natural events such as flowering or leafing, which biologists call “phenology,” are obvious responses to climate change. They can impact human water supply, pollination of crops, the onset of spring (and allergy season), the chances of wildfires and the overall health of ecosystems.

To better understand this, scientists from 22 institutions in Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States studied 1,634 species of plants across four continents. They compared how plants responded based on historical monitoring data and on small-plot experiments in which warming was artificially induced.

Jeez. Nobody saw that coming, did they? Sent May 3:

It’s unsurprising that researchers studying the responses of plants to increased atmospheric CO2 found their predictions nearly an order of magnitude too low. The uncomfortable fact is that almost without exception, scientific forecasts have underestimated the magnitude, speed and significance of climate change and its effects. There are two important reasons for this disconnect.

The first is that scientific language is inherently conservative, striving for accuracy without emotion. A phrase like “statistically significant correlation” doesn’t immediately trigger anyone’s adrenalin — even when it’s linking greenhouse gas concentrations to a warming planet. The second is that scientific research is usually specialized, thereby minimizing the effects of interacting factors in a complex situation — and if any situation deserves the term “complex,” it’s global warming.

America and the world must mount a robust and meaningful response to the climate crisis, if we are to avoid a future full of unpleasant surprises.

Warren Senders

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