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squirrelWe had just over 2 inches (5 cm) of snow early in the week. The ground has not yet frozen though and within a day it was melted. Until yesterday most of the leaves were still on all my trees. This is the latest I have ever seen the leaves drop; we are usually done before the end of October. We had a cold, hard wind blow on Saturday and I looked out my front window at one point in the late afternoon to see this poor little squirrel sitting in the maple tree, back to the wind. It has a nest there in the crook of the tree behind it. I watched it make it this summer with green leaves. As much as I dislike squirrels in my garden, it was an interesting thing to watch, the nest building. And with the wind blowing so hard yesterday I did feel sympathy for the squirrel. Not enough to invite it inside out of the cold wind though!

I was surprised but not surprised by a recent post on Updraft, the weather blog at Minnesota Public Radio. In it, Paul Huttner, a local meteorologist, recounts a conference held on November 7th at the University of Minnesota, the first Minnesota Conference on Climate Adaptation. There were experts on climate, the environment, energy, economics, health, and transportation.

Climate change in Minnesota is not a long-term prospect, something that won’t begin for another 20-30 years. It is already happening. Over the past 10 years, Minnesota has seen catastrophic losses from extreme weather increase significantly and it is only going to continue.

By 2050 Minnesota will be 2 to 6F degrees warmer than it is now and by 2100 it might be as much as 5 to 10F degrees warmer. Doesn’t sound bad, right? I mean what Minnesotan doesn’t wish for warmer or shorter winters at some point during the season? But that warming comes with a price. It means the summers will also be hotter and while it is not unheard of for the thermometer to top 100F (38C), it is not a regular occurrence. But it will be. Combine that with high humidity and you have lots of people in danger of heat related illness and death.

It also means the prairie-forest border in the southwest of the state will shift as far as 300 miles (483 km) to the north where we currently have a protected wilderness of boreal (pine and spruce) forest. What will happen to the forest that requires long, cold winters? It will disappear. And what about the animals that live in these very different areas? They will migrate or disappear too.

I got really depressed.

I remembered an article I read earlier this year, Native Plants are a Moral Choice:

As gardeners we have first hand knowledge of environmental change – birds, butterflies, soil, rain. We are also the first and last line of defense. How we garden is how we see the world. Gardening is an ethical act, like shopping locally, going to farmer’s markets, et cetera. We make the choices as gardeners, and we are powerful — there are tens of millions of us in North America. Gardening has become much more than an aesthetic hobby – it’s now also a protest (you front lawn converters know what I mean!).

Because the climate is changing, because habitats are disappearing, because the animals that live in those habitats are increasingly threatened, the article suggests choosing native plants becomes a moral choice.

Okay, I thought, but that is not going to stop the climate from changing. And what happens to my carefully cultivated native plants when my climate becomes too warm for them? How do I plan for that? How do I garden for climate change? How do I choose plants? Do I worry about the warmer future or do I instead continue choosing native plants based on my current weather? And when the temperatures get warm enough will what constitutes a native plant for Minnesota change? Will I be thinking of plants native to the plains in Oklahoma now native to Minnesota in the future?

It is overwhelming and sad and makes me feel so completely powerless. Part of me says I am overreacting and being silly. Deal with it when it happens, don’t worry about it now. But I am a planner by nature so I cannot help but look ahead. And for a while it looked so bleak, the little Eden that Bookman and I have been working so hard at creating in such danger, that I got myself into quite a funk.

I was saved by a book. I will tell you about it tomorrow.

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