The Many Small Ways Americans Are Adapting to Climate Change

Changing attitudes toward climate change on a larger scale were evident at the 7 national parks Goldstein and Howard visited. At Montana’s Glacier National Park, for example, more and more tourists are attracted precisely because of scientific estimates that the park’s glaciers will be gone by 2030. In addition, learning about glacial retreat is now an integral part of the visitor experience at GNP. On their blog, Goldstein and Howard quote a National Park Service staff member who gives weekly presentations titled “Where Have All the Glaciers Gone?” and said: “At first, [the Park Service’s] attitude was, ‘people are on vacation, don’t upset them by talking about global warming.’ Now, we have a mandate to talk about it.”

Besides communicating more explicitly about the effects of global warming, Park Service staff are also initiating ecological interventions – “perhaps a little more heavy-handedly than they have in the past,” Goldstein and Howard write. In 2003, the Park Service deliberately directed a forest fire away from the region’s huckleberries, which bears eat; to prevent invasive species from reaching the park’s Quartz Lake, they constructed a barrier in Quartz Creek.

It’s a similar story at Joshua Tree National Park in California, where, like Montana’s glaciers, Joshua Trees are disappearing. Park Service specialists are trying to better understand the factors determining survival and death of the trees, and they’re also weighing some drastic interventions to preserve the tree population, such as manually relocating trees to areas with “future favorable climates.”

Goldstein and Howard in Glacier National Park. "Though beautiful, the hike feels a bit like a hospice visit," they write.

It would be a shame for these parks to lose their namesakes, but Goldstein and Howard’s observations across America suggest that cities and towns may be better poised to adapt to climate change than wilderness areas are. The stories from the cities seem hopeful; the dispatches from Glacier and Joshua Tree, less so. Perhaps that is because existential threats – changes that would alter the defining characteristics of a place – are more difficult to contemplate before they occur. Who would have thought, ten or twenty or fifty years ago, that a glacier-less Glacier National Park was possible?

In Napa Valley, though, exactly that kind of forethought is taking place. The region is well-known as wine country. Local vintners, write Goldstein and Howard, formed a climate task force in 2006 to meticulously track temperature changes and develop strategies to manipulate microclimates in the vineyards. They installed weather stations in the vineyards, sifted through farmers’ harvest logs from past decades, and are even testing solar-powered sensors on their vines to monitor plant hydration day by day. What they have found is, so far, a much slower progression in temperatures in Napa Valley than has been measured elsewhere, allowing growers to put scientists’ projections into context, and gauge when it might be time to start switching cultivars. They’re doing their homework, in other words, and providing a standout example of what it takes to stay ahead of existential threats — climate change may mean the end of glaciers, but it won’t, hopefully, mean the end of California wine.

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Svati Kirsten Narula is a former producer for TheAtlantic.com.

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