To the Editor: Climate Change

Note: This article is based on my own research and observations and does not profess to be a statement from the newsletter editorial board nor from the Master Gardener program in Billings.  ~ Ann Guthals

We are unfortunately seeing more and more signs of climate change here and now, not in some distant future nor just in faraway places. I keep a nature notebook and I observe and record many natural phenomena earlier every year such as wildflowers blooming at least two weeks early, bees active in my maple tree in February, and signs of fall in the middle of August. We suffer from record heat and record snowfall. Storms are more powerful with high winds and large hail. Smoke from wildfires now blankets our skies all summer long, from wildfires of record size. The challenging gardening environment in Montana has become even more challenging.

These events were predicted decades ago by scientists using computer modelling. The predictions are coming true and they are happening faster and sooner than the climate scientists even imagined, such as the more rapid pace of the Greenland ice sheet melt and the opening of the Arctic Ocean in summer.

I have enjoyed spending much time in nature all my life and many years ago when I saw this beautiful wild world being harmed by human activities, I dedicated myself to doing what I could to help mitigate the damages. It has been increasingly difficult to remain involved with any kind of hope as the problems have gotten worse, not better, over the last 50 years. But I have kids and grandchildren and thus a link to the future even if I begin to see my time here getting shorter. So I can’t give up the fight.

Yet I see that the reality is there is not enough change happening fast enough or broadly enough. We are in for very rough times ahead. The changes needed are on a global scale and there doesn’t seem to be the political will to make this happen soon enough if at all. But rather than wait for bigger forces to act, you and I can act on an individual level and one area we can act in is the garden.

I see two directions in response to climate change that gardeners can take: 1. Learn to garden defensively in uncertain weather conditions, and 2. Engage in gardening practices that may help slow climate change or at least not exacerbate it.

“Gardening Defensively:”

Maintaining healthy soils has several positive results, including sequestering carbon in the soil, conserving water, and supporting stronger, more resilient plants.

Using mulch and cover crops helps keep the soil healthy and conserves water.

Not tilling the soil keeps the beasties in the soil healthy and in harmony.

Gardening organically puts less poison in the air, water and soil and, again, keeps the soil beasties alive and healthy.

Using drought and heat-resistant varieties may become a necessity.

Saving seeds from successful plants will help select hardier varieties.

Using drip systems conserves water.

Reading, learning, observing, and communicating are important. We are all beginner gardeners in this new emerging world and supporting one another helps. Observing successes and failures as conditions change may inform us to make different choices of what to grow next year.

“Gardening to Slow Climate Change:”

All of the practices in Gardening Defensively above will also help mitigate climate change by creating healthy soils and minimizing the use of petrochemicals.

Growing perennials stabilizes the soil and avoids the plastic pots annuals come in every year.

Gardening provides the most local food possible, in our own backyards, and helps minimize the “travel miles” for our food, cutting down on the use of polluting petroleum products.

We can eat from our garden as needed, reducing food waste (less going in the landfill, less methane created).

In addition to healthy soils, planting trees can help sequester carbon.

Composting returns the organic matter to the soil.

We are all in this together. We can learn and adapt our practices and engage in a small, individual effort to help the Earth recover. I hope it is not too late.

By Ann Guthals