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Dahr Jamail | Our Changing World: Readers Share Their Climate Stories

Truthout readers share stories that bring home the reality of climate disruption to all of us.

Readers write in from across the country to share their stories about how climate disruption is unfolding in the towns, states and regions where they live. An estimated 66 million trees across California's Sierra Nevada have died due to the ongoing drought in that state. (Photo: Chris Burnett)

Part of the Series

For years, Truthout readers have been sharing stories with me about climate anomalies they are witnessing where they live. Today, I’m bringing together your observations to provide a snapshot of what people are seeing in their hometowns, states, and regions in the US and abroad, as anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continues apace.

While no single climatological event or phenomenon can be attributed solely to ACD, consistent shifts in weather patterns, along with increasing frequency and intensification of events or phenomena, are being tied directly to rising temperatures.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

Truthout collected and published your stories in this fashion once before, and your stories remain invaluable: They provide front-line observations of animal die-offs, temperature records, droughts, seasonal shifting and other directly observable changes ACD is causing around the world.

Major Temperature Shifts

In August 2015, Madeline Perkins from North Carolina witnessed several dramatic shifts in her climate: “In northwest North Carolina, in Pisgah National Forest, at about 3,800 feet, the last two winters have returned to below zero temperatures, after at least 15 years of not having seen that. The red and black ants that had been increasing steadily for 24 years, that I know of, are now gone. More distressing for me, the garden spiders are also gone.”

November of last year brought an email from Chris Wegner in Northern Idaho, where, generally, “winters are long and cold and summer’s blazing heat starts in mid-July.” But that is changing. “Our summer began a month early, the heat and drought sparking the legendary 2015 fires that blackened our sky with unbreathable air (often over twice the Air Quality Index level deemed hazardous — our levels were frequently in the 600-650 range). We usually experience frost ending my gardening season in early to mid-September, sometimes even in August. This season my squash and tomatoes still had not frozen by the first week in November.”

That summer, Seattle, Washington saw several days of record-breaking heat. Curtis Johnson wrote to me: “A couple of things I’ve noticed this year here in the Seattle area: The mosquitoes are bigger and there are more of them than I ever remember. I can’t sit in my yard anymore without using massive amounts of bug spray, which hasn’t been the case previously. Of course the Olympic [mountains] view from Seattle in June looked like a typical August and now (July 20) it looks like September before first snowfall up there. [They were largely bare of snow that summer.] Our June average high temperature smashed previous records by 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course it was the hottest January-June temperatures on the planet in recorded history.”

Johnson continued, “I don’t know if my memory is off, but I never remember seeing the Brothers [mountains] entirely devoid of snow, like they are now. If so, it would be late September before a snow or an aberrant early October maybe. All things are blooming or fruiting earlier than normal. Blackberries, which normally are an August-September affair, are already in the first picking. It’s like everything is being shifted and shaken dramatically — frightening and disconcerting.”

Johnson’s memory was not “off,” because the summer of 2015 saw the Olympic Mountains left with only 6 percent of their average snowpack. In fact, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency by the middle of that May, as record-breaking high temperatures were common across the state.

Rachelle Merle, who lives in Port Townsend, Washington, a small town on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula, shared some of her observations about how dramatically warmer it is now, compared to when she was a child. (She was born in 1978.)

“When I was a child, the ponds would still freeze,” Merle wrote. “We had a pond about 50 feet in diameter and eight-feet deep, which froze multiple times every winter.”

Merle said the freezes were long and hard enough that they would ice skate on the pond for 10 days at a stretch, and that happened at least two to three times every winter. “We weren’t allowed to play on the ice until my dad, a large man of 200 pounds, could jump on it without it cracking,” she added.

She said she has watched the temperatures warm over the decades, but through the 1980s and ’90s, “We still had a few good snow storms every winter, where the snow would be at least an inch deep, even at my grandpa’s house at sea level.”

But nowadays, things are radically different.

“As anyone who’s lived in this area for any length of time knows, this is now a rare occurrence,” Merle said. “It is peculiar to tell my own children of the winters I experienced, and to have them gaze at me in awe hearing these stories of snow and ice. Now, we’re lucky to have large puddles freeze solid enough for them to play on. Now, we have to go hundreds of feet up [in elevation] to get to the cold weather.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency has documented the increased temperatures around the Pacific Northwest over the years.

Merle also spoke of her grandfather, who was born in 1913 and grew up on two of the islands in Puget Sound.

“He has told story after story about how this area has changed,” she said. “The differences between the winters of his youth stuck, made me and my siblings envious. They had way more snow and cold (which to children hoping for school to be closed is a good thing). He spoke of the lakes freezing solid enough that a few of the folks with cars could drive on them, including Pass Lake and Lake Campbell on Fidalgo [Island]. In fact, a few of his cousins even got frostbite on a trip to Bellingham.”

Perishing Flora

This September, Chris Burnett from Los Angeles Indymedia, wrote to me of his firsthand observations of the drought-driven die-off of 66 million trees that are dying in California’s Sierra Nevada region.

“I just got back from a trip to the western Sierra Nevadas visiting Mono Hot Springs, an area I’ve known for over 20 years, one that was always lush and green,” Burnett wrote. “I was devastated to see so many dead trees, as a result of both drought and beetle infestation, according to many I talked to up there. In fact, it’s estimated that 66 million trees are dead, and by next year, the problem will spread farther north.”

An estimated 66 million trees across California's Sierra Nevada have died due to the ongoing drought in that State. (Photo: Chris Burnett)An estimated 66 million trees across California’s Sierra Nevada have died due to the ongoing drought in that state.

Animal Die-Offs

From Oregon, Jessica Sweeny wrote in August 2015 to bring attention to a bird die-off she’d witnessed. “On August 1, the front page of my regional newspaper, The Oregonian, led with the article, ‘Pacific “blob” roils ecology’ (the digital version of the article is called ‘Sea change: Here’s what’s wrong in the Pacific Ocean‘). I wanted to share it with you because in addition to chronicling more distressing environmental changes specific to the ocean; it also addresses the die-off of Cassin’s auklets [small seabirds]. My family saw hundreds of their bodies dead onshore over the New Year and I speculated whether the cause was due to climate change. The article suggests that that is likely the case.”

Several scientific reports and studies confirm Sweeny’s observations: ACD-fueled warm water temperatures in the Pacific have disrupted the marine food chain, causing major die-offs in several species of birds, from California to Alaska.

Drought, Flooding and Record Temperatures

Josef Lauber wrote from Switzerland in late 2015, saying his area had seen two months without rain and counting: “The creeks are so low in water that the fish died. The officials would not think of having to save them like they need to and used to do during hot summer times. November is generally cold, wet and foggy, but now we have splendid southern European weather here.”

In the fall of that same year, Tim Remple wrote of flooding, temperature extremes, seasonal shifts and extreme freezing in the region of Colorado where he lives.

“I live on the Front Range [of the Colorado Rockies], a bit north of Boulder, in Longmont; fly-over pictures of our flooding made the national news a couple of years ago,” Remple wrote. “Water volume in St. Vrain creek, at peak, was a mere 10 times flood stage volume.

“More recently, the extreme freeze event we had last November [had an] impact on trees. The plum tree in the neighbor’s yard that was planted almost 30 years ago was all but killed. This year, for the first time in a very long time, it did not bear fruit; it was too dead.

“I’ll soon be 60, and have lived between Colorado Springs and here the majority of my life. The climate has indeed warmed, and seasons shifted. This fall, we are still in summer — 15 to now almost 20 degrees above normal way too often.”

Remple is seeing seasonal shifting by “four weeks,” and says the changes in time of the seasons continue to grow.

Being an avid skier, he watches the weather in the Rockies closely. He has seen rain in Summit County (the valley floor there is roughly 9,000 feet elevation) in December, along with sporadic snowfall followed by long periods of no snow whatsoever. According to Remple, ski season is shifting as well. Instead of running roughly from November to April, it is shifting later, and has been doing so for several years in a row.

Confirming the problems facing ski areas in the US, a ski industry expert stated that 31 percent of ski areas are “dying” due to the shifting climate.

Remple concluded: “Both based on volumes of data, and personal experience, we see all too well what is happening, and continues to happen, and seem[s] to get worse, or accelerate. It is astounding to begin to come to grips with what that means — for myself, for my 17- and 21-year-old, for the world.”

Drought and record-breaking high temperatures are, not surprisingly, now the new normal throughout much of California, including the northern portion of the state, which until recent years, had always been cooler and wetter than the rest of the state.

During the middle of the summer of last year, Celeste White wrote from California to share her observations.

“I live in far northern California (outside of Redding), and I know you know about our drought. In addition, temperatures for most of the month of June were, I believe, 20 degrees above normal. In addition, our grapes matured a month early, and our figs are in the process of maturing several weeks to a month early.

“When I first moved here 30 years ago, it was never humid in the summers, even though it got very hot. It was dry. Starting about five years or so ago, we now get monsoonal flow from the Southwest, which makes temperatures very hot (like 111, 113, 116), but also humid. I understand that this is due to the warming of the Arctic, which moves the jet stream farther north. This makes evaporative coolers not very effective, so more people are using air-conditioning which exacerbates the problem.”

White noted that the lack of requirements for developers in Redding has resulted in detrimental practices, like putting black shingles on the roofs of houses.

“When we built our house, we built a passive solar design for both heat and cold, and have done everything we can to keep our carbon footprint as small as possible, so it is very frustrating that developers in California (or anywhere else, for that matter) aren’t required to use these very simple and cost-effective solutions for new buildings.”

Species Shift, Coastal Erosion

From Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Joyce Levine shared several disturbing observations last summer.

“I have lived just outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida for close to 11 years. When I arrived in 2004, bees were plentiful and the ring-necked pigeons (an invader from the Caribbean area) were so plentiful they were almost a nuisance. Today, there are NO bees, and the pigeons have almost completely vanished. We also seem to get fewer migratory visitors than we used to. Although that fluctuates somewhat from year to year, the overall trend has been downward, particularly during the last three to four years.”

It has been well documented for several years now, that bees (and birds) are seeing dramatic declines in their populations due to insecticides, as well as seasonal shifts caused by ACD.

Levine continued, “Yesterday’s South Florida Sun Sentinel (the local paper) announced that millions of dollars will be spent, again, to ‘renourish’ beaches affected by severe erosion. Some of these beaches will be extended 200 feet into the ocean. All I could do was shake my head and sigh at the waste of public money. Meanwhile, the finishing touches are being put on replacing a stretch of Highway A1A, the beachfront roadway throughout much of the region, where a sideswipe by megastorm Sandy relocated the beach dunes onto and behind the road. It doesn’t seem to have dawned on people here that barrier islands are not ‘land’ [they are more like sand dunes, and are shaped and moved by the ocean, as opposed to being part of the continent], and that all of these activities will come to naught sooner than they imagine.

“The signs of climate upheaval, environmental collapse and extinction cry out around us, but too few seem to be listening.”

On a Lighter Note…

From Canada, Dave Glenfield wrote to share a story about an interaction he had with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, formerly an ACD denier.

“I had an interesting chat with the [former] Prime Minister of Canada [Stephen Harper] a year or two ago; he came to visit my mum (I’ve been doing home care for her for the last few years) for Mother’s Day. He was talking to mum, and mum mentioned one of her ancestors, James Ross, who gave his name to the Ross Ice Shelf and Sea in Antarctica. I butted into the conversation and talked about comparing the writings of my ancestor and his voyage between Australia and New Zealand to my own voyage in the 1980s. I used it to point out the differences between the ecosystem that he saw, and the one that I did.

“Stephen went on to [state] that he didn’t ‘believe’ in global warming, and then went on to say that as his wife went on a hiking trip to the Yukon, and that she hadn’t seen any changes in the climate, all was well.

“As Steven was leaving, he complimented us on our garden. I pointed out that the plants were sprouting and growing a full month early. He’s made sure not to talk to me again.”

Please continue to email your climate observations to: [email protected] so that Truthout can continue to publish the dramatic changes you are witnessing in your world.

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