Have you heard the news? The planet is getting hotter and it’s a real problem. That was the simple but important takeaway from a recent event at The Paramount Theater, hosted by Piedmont Master Gardeners and Virginia Cooperative Extension. Hundreds of attendees learned about the impact of climate change in the natural spaces around them, and what’s yet to come as temperatures steadily rise.
Even for the most conscientious Charlottesville resident, acknowledging and planning for climate change can feel overwhelming. But activists at the Paramount event warned that it’s imperative to know what lies ahead for our region—and our planet—in the face of global warming, and take action.
One simple option is to plant more trees to sequester increasing carbon dioxide emissions. You could not only help the Earth but also naturally cool your home by planting deciduous trees on its east and west sides. “We probably can’t stop climate change rapidly enough, so we’re going to have to learn to live with it,” said Francis Reilly, Jr., of Washington, D.C., the emcee and a master gardener with more than 35 years of experience as an advisor on environmental policy.
Reilly also suggested mitigating the effects of global warming by creating landscapes with woody, carbon dioxide-absorbing plants, and in a way that minimizes mowable grass. (Most mowers still use fossil fuels, in addition to the other environmental issues, like water and pesticide use, associated with lawns.)
According to Reilly, warmer winters mean garden pests like pine bark beetles and corn earworms will thrive. That’s bad. And less snow equals a drier spring. That’s also bad. An increase in frost-free days will make crops more vulnerable to colder temperatures, so that’s also not good—unless you’re growing sweet potatoes, which prefer a hot, dry environment (and which you probably aren’t growing).
Another speaker at the event, Jeremy Hoffman, a climate and earth scientist at Richmond’s Science Museum of Virginia, said we’re now seeing earlier springs and summers at the expense of falls and winters. In Charlottesville, he said, the average last-freeze date each spring has moved up a week—from April 8 to April 1—over the past 120 years. While this technically extends the growing season, it’s still problematic, because if farmers decide to get a head start on planting, their crops can be killed by a surprise frost. Despite climate change, a crop-destroying freeze is still possible, because of the Earth’s tilt, and this raises the probability of food shortages, Hoffman said.
Hoffman also brought up another climate-change fact: Because of warmer weather, the local mosquito season is now 20 days longer than it was in 1970. It also means folks with seasonal allergies are reaching for their Zyrtec earlier than ever. In 2017, Hoffman said, tree-allergy season in Richmond peaked on April 15, about eight days earlier than 30 years ago.
As the evidence mounts, more people have come to understand that climate change is real. Seventy percent of Virginians—and 80 percent of Charlottesville residents—agree that global warming is happening, according to a study by Utah State University, the University of California Santa Barbara, and Yale. Also statewide, 80 percent of people agree that global warming should be regulated as a pollutant. Curiously, only 42 percent think it will harm them personally, and only 21 percent say they became aware of global warming through the media.
Those statistics would suggest that we have a long way to go, even when it comes to awareness of the global rise in temperatures. Hoffman admitted that it can be a hard topic to discuss. To help start those conversations, he gave his audience some easy talking points: It’s real, it’s caused by humans, and there’s hope. Echoing other experts, he ensured that we haven’t yet lost the battle against climate change: “There’s a lot we can do about it.”
Samantha Baars, a former C-VILLE Weekly staff writer, now works for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which was a sponsor of the Paramount event.
Be a steward
Talking about climate change isn’t usually inspiring, but experts at the Paramount event repeatedly stressed how everyone has the power to help mitigate it. The nonprofit group Piedmont Master Gardeners says small decisions you make while landscaping can make a big difference for environmental health. Here are some tips:
• Plant native species in your garden and remove invasive species, because natives save water and provide food and habitat for wild-
life, while invasives can out-compete them and reduce biodiversity.
• Reduce or eliminate your use of toxic chemicals for landscaping.
• Prevent soil loss due to erosion by covering bare soil with ground covers, shrubs, grasses, and trees.
• Grow your own food and support area food producers by going to farmers markets and spots that use local ingredients.
• Conserve water by collecting it in a rain barrel or cistern and using it to hydrate your plants.
For more resources, visit piedmontmastergardeners.org