Conservation and Biodiversity

Where’d all the fall go?

We’re two weeks into autumn, and I’ve yet to don a flannel, grow a beard or read a long novel on a city park bench.

The Earth just had its hottest September on record, and the advent of October hasn’t cooled things down — last week, Washington, D.C., hit 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36 Celsius), the city’s highest recorded temperature in October. Across the American South, states are experiencing sudden dry spells called “flash droughts,” reports the New York Times.

All right, so we can’t comfortably drink pumpkin spice lattes while wearing sweaters and reading books. In the grand scheme of things, who cares? Life in the time of climate change means a new normal of record floods, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. In the face of extreme weather events, lamentations of shortened autumns hardly seems important.

True, but a climate-altered fall can mess up everything from species migration to agriculture to tourism. With climate change, there’s much more at stake than the loss of a flanneled aesthetic.

Take species, for one. Birds rely on predictable temperatures when migrating each season, and research links flighty birds to cooler temperatures. With warmer autumns, or even changing winds, birds may delay migration, or more drastically, not migrate at all. This could have significant backlash on food chains and habitats that have grown accustomed to these migrating birds.

Climate change also affects agriculture. In a warmer world, farmers must adapt to more floods and droughts while also finding ways to combat increased numbers of pests. What’s more, with every year passed, our agricultural and political landscapes continue to shift.

As for tourism in autumn, leaf peeping (traveling to places like Vermont and New Hampshire to take in all those pretty colors) is a $3 billion industry — later this month, I’m taking a vacation to the eastern coast of Maine for just that reason, so I can attest to that appeal.

Climate change can even affect how leaves change colors, dulling the intensity of colors and throwing off timing. Unlike the blooming of spring flowers — timing that is directly linked to temperature — leaf-color change is tied to several variables, including light, drought and temperature. Severe droughts can turn trees’ colors early and for less time. Some even skip the beautiful transition altogether, going straight from green to brown. Heat can also throw off the timing — in some cases, delaying the transition and in others, bringing decay earlier.

Fortunately, for fellow leaf peepers, tourism site Smoky has a short-term solution: a 2019 fall foliage prediction map. This helps us today, but in the tumultuous world of climate change, we’ll be left with a more uncertain future.

Climate change, of course, isn’t just a fall thing. All seasons are affected by a warmer world. As the planet heats up, some areas will experience much longer summers that quickly transition to and from winter. As a native Ohioan, I’ll still see four seasons in the Buckeye state. But as each year passes, these seasons will slowly morph into something much different than those of my childhood.

The seasons we once knew are disappearing before our eyes, and understandably, it’s influencing our moods. There’s even a word for this pain: solastalgia, which is a sort of homesickness one experiences amid a climate-changed world.

To slow this transition, we need to curb our greenhouse emissions and pressure leaders to take bold action on climate change. April 22, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Now is the time to mobilize for collective action on climate change. Join the movement.

This isn’t just for me and my love of everything fall — it’s for everyone on planet Earth. We all must work together to prevent a world from transforming into something unrecognizable.