Climate Change Tips for Thinking About Thanksgiving

Climate change is increasingly affecting what ends up on your Thanksgiving table, according to experts. A report issued Wednesday detailed how global warming is altering the earth’s food chain, beginning with the Arctic.

But closer to home, unseasonably warm temperatures are having sometimes devastating effects on the goods that traditionally wind up on the Thanksgiving table.

Cranberries and Climate Change

Take cranberries, for instance. The nation’s second largest cranberry growing region, centered around Cape Cod, Massachusetts, saw a very dry and hot summer shrinking the amount of berries available for this year’s crop.

Cranberries need cool winters to regenerate so they can bloom in the spring. Flowers turn into fruit by late spring, and swell through the summer. But last summer’s daily temperatures – the hottest in 90 years – dramatically altered that pattern. It stalled the photosynthesis in cranberry plants.

Moreover, the cranberry bogs off the coast of Massachusetts are slowly being affected by sea level rise. Growers are seeing incursions of salt water into the bogs. If that continues, it could wipe out generations of cranberry farms in the area.

Bread, made from wheat, of course, fares no better. Wheat has been hit especially hard by global warming. For every single degree rise in global temperature, wheat yields globally will drop by up to 6 percent, one international team estimated this year.

Carbon Dioxide and Thanksgiving

Carbon dioxide levels, rainfall timing and frequency, as well as global temperatures, all determine how food crops fare. Fueled by sunlight, plants take in carbon dioxide to create carbohydrates — so more carbon dioxide can help boost yields.

But increased carbon dioxide levels also shut the pores on the leaves of plants, which means they send out less water into the atmosphere — and less water would increase the temperature of the plant canopy, harming crops.

Having a Green Thanksgiving

Now, of course, these processes take place over years as temperatures rise. If you want to make a more immediate difference – in addition to embracing fuel-saving, green technologies –  the Environmental Protection Agency has suggestions for going green for the holidays.

“The volume of household waste in the United States generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – about 1 million extra tons,” said EPA “There are many simple ways to ‘green’ your holiday season by reducing, recycling, and reusing. You can also minimize your impacts on climate change.”

The EPA recommends buying organic foods, and avoiding paper plates and cups at parties.

Also, make sure to set out special canisters for guests to dump their cans, bottles and even uneaten food in.

“Remember to place easily identifiable recycling and compost containers at your celebration so guests can recycle soda cans, bottles, and paper products, and compost food scraps,” the agency advises.

Climate Change and ‘Uncle Pete’

Finally, if you find relatives are really interested in your thoughts about climate change and ways to help the planet, the Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists has composed a handy-dandy guide for explaining the science over the Thanksgiving table to that dense uncle (dubbed “Uncle Pete” here) of yours. You can find it here.

“I urge each of you to engage with the Uncle Pete’s whom you may know,” writes Richard C. J. Somerville. “Have a civil conversation. In his heart, Uncle Pete would probably admit that everybody is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts. When it comes to facts, we scientists have the high ground. The world is warming. It’s not a hoax. We measure it. The warming did not stop in 1998. All the warmest years are recent years. 2016 will be the warmest year on record. 2015 is second. 2014 is third. The atmosphere is warming, and so is the ocean. Sea level is rising. Ice sheets and glaciers are shrinking. Rainfall patterns and severe weather events are changing. Climate change is real, and serious, and happening right here, right now. And it isn’t natural. Human activities are the dominant cause of the climate changes we have observed in recent decades.

“But none of these facts tells us exactly what we should do about climate change. Science can inform wise policy, but it cannot decree or prescribe what the best policies will be. There is no silver bullet, but there is lots of silver buckshot. The main barrier to action is a lack of political will.”