Winter is Cancelled This Year

The first green shoots of crocus break the ground, only to be snowed on. March in Rhode Island? No, it’s today, January 22, 2007. These are normally the coldest two weeks of the year but the plants are confused, cherry trees were blooming on the corner of Thayer and Bowen street last Thursday.

We saw the pictures on Power Point when Professor Steven Hamburg of Brown University spoke last Friday, January 19 at the First Unitarian Church in Providence on carbon and global warming. He recalled the hurricane of ‘38 and said we are overdue for another huge storm on the East Coast. This time, it could be worse. As in New Orleans, salt marshes and other natural systems of Narragansett Bay have been developed and there is less buffer between the ocean and us. The average yearly temperature is rising. Warming at the current rate could make summer in Rhode Island like summer in Virginia by the end of the century. Remember last July when the temperature went over 100 degrees Fahrenheit? We could see more days like that, more nights when the temperature doesn’t fall enough to let things cool off.

At this point in time, scientists are almost unanimous in concluding that we are experiencing global warming, the only remaining debate being about how much human activity contributes to the trend. There is no doubt that our environment is changing, and that our lives will change too. Our individual consumption of energy is part of the problem, but realistically, what can one individual do?

Dr. Hamburg offered four things each one of us can do. We can save money and collectively we can slow global warming.

1. Check your electric bill and see how many kilowatt hours you use per month. Try to get it below 500.
2. Use compact florescent light bulbs wherever possible (you can get a two dollar rebate at stores when you buy them)
3. Use a programmable thermostat, so you only have your furnace running when you need it (or be like me and turn it down when you go to bed and when you’re leaving the house and when you get hot flashes)
4. Write to Governor Carcieri and let him know you want Rhode Island to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. We are the only state in New England that has not joined this plan to reduce carbon emissions from our power plants. The Governor is sensitive to the concerns of business, but he won’t know what we citizens want unless we tell him.

None of these actions are big, or dramatic, or give instant results. But Dr. Hamburg, and the weird non-winter we have had up till this week, remind us that change is unavoidable. We are going to have to alter our lifestyles drastically in the coming years. If we are passive and uninformed today we will waste opportunities to slow the rate of warming, to find time for new clean energy sources and to be a part of the solution.