Monday, March 24, 2008


There may be innumerable effects of global warming, but one I hadn't really considered was described in the following article in the Boston Globe:

The article describes the shifting balance of power in the blueberry economy. Maybe Texans don't know that Maine is, and always has been, the unofficial wild blueberry capital of the world. But, according to the article, Quebec is catching up in blueberry production and many Mainers blame global warming while Canadians credit it.

Blueberries are native to only specific parts of North America, including Maine, but as the climate goes, so does the blueberry. This is what's happening in Quebec:

Every four years or so, killing spring frosts hit Quebec, nearly obliterating the year's harvest around St.-Jean Lake, while Down East Maine, some 350 miles southeast, reliably produced millions of pounds a year for use in jams, pie fillings, and muffins.


Frosts can be very localized, and historical temperature records are not available for the entire St.-Jean Lake region. But limited data back up what farmers say: Frosts have declined during May and June, especially in the last several decades, a period when the rise in world temperatures became more pronounced. For example, the community of Roberval had 33 killing frosts in the 10 Mays and Junes between 1948 and 1957, the oldest records available. It had 22 between 1968 and 1977. In the last decade, it had 11. Two other communities with long-term records showed similar declines.

The last time a killer spring frost wiped out virtually all the St.-Jean Lake region's blueberry harvest was in 1998. Other climate factors can still influence yield - this year the harvest was down because of a lack of insulating snow and an August frost in some places. But the spring freezes happen so much less that some growers are considering expanding into even more northern regions.

"Global warming is giving us opportunity," said Jean-Eudes Senneville, one of Quebec's largest blueberry growers.

This type of story may not be as important as the droughts and famines that may be caused by global warming, but it is important nonetheless. Regions and states are partly defined by their geographies and the flora and fauna that inhabit those geographies. The same things that help define a region also contribute to peoples identities and culture. Think of how we identify ourselves as Texas Longhorns. Everyone knows about Maine lobster and Florida oranges.

What happens if, due to a changing climate, grapes for champagne can't be grown in France, lobsters can't be harvested off the coast of Maine and climate becomes unsuitable for gators in Florida? Not only will economies be affected, but significant parts of people's cultures and identities may be washed away as parts of their environment move or are extinguished.

All over the globe, shifting weather patterns are causing changes similar to what's being seen in Maine and Quebec. Neither the economic changes or the identity changes are necessarily a bad thing; Jean-Eudes Senneville will certainly benefit and maybe lobstermen in Maine would rather blueberries didn't diminish the cultural prominence of their trade. But it would be weird to call ourselves Longhorns if global warming turned Texas into a desert where no Longhorn could survive. I guess we could call ourselves the Texas Camels, but it might be more appropriate to tag ourselves with the icon that got us into this mess. We could resurrect the name "Oilers."

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised to find this article on the new "Green" section of the webpage. It's a new space devoted to news and analysis about green topics. It's nice to see continuing increase in attention devoted to energy and the environment.

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