Missing Cherries, Cool Shirts in India, Syrian Civil War
Nature's Edge Notebook #34
Observation, Analysis, Reflection, New Questions
Western Michigan, sometime in August.
"The acorns are getting bigger," said our good neighbor, Pat.
Just a quiet observation, her voice drifting through the big rangy bush between her back yard and the small back terrace of our little summer house.
I could hear the rhythmic whisk of her broom on the surface of her small terrace in the dappled sunlight of a perfect early August summer morning.
"What does that mean?" I asked through the shrubbery… as I continued my summer's task of moving a large jumbled pile of sawed-up tree limbs and trunks away from the back of our house so as to remove from temptation the termites who'd already built several large cities in some of the bigger chunks of our former cottonwood … a tree of notoriously weak standing that we'd had to have cut down because it was starting to lean out over the house, threatening to fall on it in a storm.
"It means autumn's coming," she answered as she continued her sweeping under the solid oaks towering above her house.
The chipmunk who lives under our summer house had also noticed the larger acorns - as shown by a few gnawed-out shells outside his bolt hole down beside the sill of our back screen door.
So, another natural cycle - larger acorns as summer lengthens.
It was an early hint of autumn that Pat, a year-round resident, had been noticing for years as she swept her back deck - and it came earlier each August than what most of us summer-only residents first remark, a sudden tiny splotch of yellow or light brown leaves amidst the walls of the otherwise deep green foliage of the trees crowding the dunes and creek-sides and country roads.
"First sign of autumn," we'd say wistfully on spotting those few bright leaves, having to start thinking about our return to the cities.
Pat finished sweeping, and went back inside.
I kept lifting and moving heavy 18-inch-long tree sections (perfect size, once split, for the stove) to their new orderly stack at the back of our yard, delighting in the rough physical summer work, relocating my wood pile, while thinking also of what now seems clear: Not all the cycles we've been seeing in nature this summer are natural.
'Too Much Time on My Hands This Summer'
"I'm going to have too much time on my hands this summer," my old friend Bruce had told me back in June when I'd stopped by his office in town.
As kids in the 1950s, we and our sisters had played in the summertime woods and streams here.
His family's orchard business in this west Michigan county was started by his grandparents and their siblings in the 1910s; now one of his sons, who poked his head in as we chatted, helps run it.
Bruce recounted how a string of 85-degree days in March this year brought out the blossoms of cherry and peach and apple trees - far too soon - followed in April by 19 nights of hard freeze that killed most all the crop.
"Last time we had something like that was 1945," he said. That was a legendary year for his family and others here, when their usual hard-won bounty all but vanished.
Before midsummer this year it was clear that some 90 percent of Michigan's 2012 fruit crop had been lost. Minnesota and several other upper Midwest and Northeast states have also suffered heavy loss of their fruit crop.
Those great cherries you've been eating each summer probably without knowing they came from Michigan, probably came, this year, from Washington state.
It's not only the fruit farmers… and it's not only in the United States.
By mid-August, headlines around the country were announcing that massive drought - firmly linked by virtually all the world's climate scientists to manmade global warming - would be sending food prices up in America and other nations.
The world's climate scientists have straightforward graphs showing how such heat waves and droughts have become more frequent worldwide, as they had predicted.
Everywhere, on front page, evening news, and website, we've seen pictures of American farmers standing in bare fields of cracked earth, pictures of immense advancing walls of dust storms revisiting the sites of the 1930s "Dust Bowl," pictures of farm hands standing next to waist-high corn while reaching their hands high overhead to show where the corn should have been by then.
There have been similar stories from India.
The backyards of Bangalore and of Kansas City have seemed at times interchangeable - thanks in part to the far more common access now to the WorldWideWeb,
That's especially true in South India, where English is so often the lingua franca commonly used by its many different ethnic communities.
Just change the names of the farmers and a bit of their garb and they read like much the same story, with one or two different terms for the weather:
"Millions of Indian farmers stricken with weak monsoon rains, as drought looms in many states," reads the subhead on an Associated Press story you may already have noticed on ABCNews.com.
Indian farmers seen standing in bare fields of cracked earth, but wearing those comfortable light cotton knee-length shirts that are as normal and sensible in the fields and paddies around Harayana and Srirangapatna as are blue jeans in the fields and orchards around Topeka and Hart.
And in American newspapers, the photos often look essentially the same:
Not Just in the US and India - It's Global
The Centers of Continents Start to Dry Out
And it's not just in the United States and India.
Each year now, such summertime stories tend to be increasingly frequent from all continents - from Europe and Asia, South America and both East and West Africa… from Italy, Brazil and China, and from Gambia on Africa's Atlantic coast to Somalia on Africa's Horn protruding into the Indian Ocean.
And in the southern hemisphere?
It's winter there, of course, but the news is often about the same:
Just as a years-long drought in eastern Australia appears to be easing, parts of Western Australia report the driest year on record - hitting hard both east and south of the city of Perth, where dams are reported registering record low inflows, with inevitable stress on annual crops expected by agricultural boards.
Antarctica's crops, of course, have not been vegetable.
They've been more giant icebergs breaking off as warming ocean currents continue to insinuate their way in under huge ice-shelves.
A truly global sort of news is emerging - as most of the world's climate scientists predicted a quarter century ago.
Monitoring stations worldwide report a general pattern over recent years of the centers of continents beginning to dry out.
They also report that rains, when they do come (often on the down-wind edges of the prevailing winds, as in America's Northeast) are hitting more often with far greater severity in the form of intense deluges that produce sudden destructive floods or quickly run off, often taking more topsoil with them, and don't soak in.
Syrian Civil War and Global Warming - News Stories Merge
Every day this summer, most anyone scanning the web or the national headlines has been able easily to find fresh "hard news" stories about the inexorable and rapid advance of manmade global warming.
Here are links to just a couple you may you may have missed:
That's from the venerable Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 by widely respected scientists, including Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer and some of those involved in the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago.
This well-sourced and thoughtful article depicts how a recent "drought unparalleled in Syrian History lasted from 2006 to 2010 and led to an unprecedented mass migration of 1.5 million people from farms to urban centers," which caught Syria's Assad regime unaware and unprepared.
Not the sole cause of the Syrian uprising, of course - there is never a single cause - but the article details how that massive drought appears to have been a major necessary element setting it up.
Rising food prices, drought related, have also been cited by some analysts as contributing to discontent in Egypt and in other upheavals in the "Arab Spring," as well as in continuing political tensions in parts of Asia and Africa.
The intelligence agencies of many countries are now urgently warning their governments' leaders about just this sort of climate-based destabilization.
'You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat' (And a Bigger Journalism)
Frequent reports now tell us the sea ice (frozen sea surface) of the Arctic Ocean is on track for its biggest late summer melt-back since records have been kept - and almost certainly since far longer than that.
He's echoing the famous line in the movie "Jaws" uttered by Rory Scheider's police chief Brody to Robert Shaw's Quint on first seeing the size of the Great White's jaws up close and then backing up, stunned, into the wheel house:
"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
In this skepticalscience.com article, first spotted by this reporter on Joe Romm's widely respected daily ThinkProgress/Climate Progress website , Bailey links to a telling graph showing "Sea Ice Extent: 1978-2012? that is built on data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.
It seems never to stop, now; the urgent global warming stories conveyed on mainstream media seem to come in daily.
They are hard to avoid. Even as I write this, just one of those coming in today tells of famously rainy Seattle approaching its longest dry spell on record. The record, in 1951, is 51 dry days in a row; they're already at 41, with forecasters saying at least another 10 dry days is likely.
It's not only bigger graphs that may be needed.
This reporter is hearing a growing member of professional American journalists saying that we also need a bigger journalism.
TO BE CONTINUED. NEXT WEEK: "Alert The Media! There's a New 4th Category of News"
Find more on our Nature's Edge website at www.abcnews.com/naturesedge