Bummer: Unseasonable Ice Storms Cause ‘Climate Change’ Problems For Gardens

The UK Guardian’s Catriona Sandilands can totes look out her back window and see climate change doom

I see my garden as a barometer of climate change
I worry about my beautiful, compromised plants, exposed to unseasonable ice storms and heatwaves

On that particular afternoon, I had to wait until the sun had passed over the deck to do this work, or it would have been just too hot. It was nearly 31C that afternoon with high humidity: not quite record-breaking, but unseasonable for Toronto. Summers, here, are getting longer and hotter, and winters warmer and more unpredictable. This year, the thermometer hit 16C in February: that’s in a Canadian city in which the historical average high for the month is -3C. Now, we are in the middle of an extended heatwave.

In a year of large contrasts, there was also an exceptional storm in mid-April that turned roads and sidewalks to glass for days, and with such high winds that insurance companies threw up their hands at the number of claims related to roof damage, including mine. Then in May – May! – there was a heat alert. This is enough drama to make even my least environmentally-conscious friends make noises about global warming.

The garden has suffered this year, especially the lower-growing plants; even some of the hardy, well-established lavenders packed it in. The problem is not that it was too cold (although there was a top-10 longest and coldest polar air event in December/January), or that it was too warm in those double-digit February days, or that there was the ice storm in April, or that it was 31C in May, or even that there are now again record-breaking temperatures. The problem is that all of these things happened in a remarkably short time span, and that longer-term climate changes have already begun to destabilise plant communities, making them more vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Weather isn’t climate except when it’s used to push a Narrative. And shouldn’t roads be banned since they carry fossil fueled vehicles? And, I hope it’s a tiny home, otherwise, big carbon footprint.

To me, more than anything, gardening in these times means two things. First, looking after my little backyard demands that I pay close attention to the present and future: what are the plants telling me about the ways the climate is changing? What do they need that I can give them? What do these needs tell me about the larger scale of the changes in which we are immersed? What can I do, concretely, to mitigate change, to adapt to it, and even to resist it?

Second, and more foundationally, this garden invites me to reflect on the past and present: on gardening itself, and how the particular plants I am tending are part of larger processes of colonial, global transformation in which histories of plant movements are bound up with those of capitalist, fossil-fueled developments. We can, perhaps, more easily think about cotton, wheat, sugar cane, and corn at this level: plants that were central to slavery, to the rise of industrial agriculture, to what some scholars call “ecological imperialism.” But gardens are also part of this picture.

Dealing with these people are like dealing with Flat Earthers or those who totally discount any sort of evolution. The Earth changes. The climate changes.

But, hey, I’m sure we can solve this with a tax, right?

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