Okay, we get it. The "hockey stick" graph is seared into our collective consciousness, and we understand that carbon dioxide and other gases produced by human industry are accumulating in the atmosphere, warming the Earth at an alarming pace. Polar ice caps are melting, and Greenland — which by rights should have been named Iceland since 80% of it is covered with ice — is losing its glaciers and actually starting to turn green. This is bad news for polar bears that depend on sea ice to hunt and the thousands of Pacific islanders who’ve been forced to leave their flooded homes due to rising sea levels and storm surges linked to climate change.
Yet for those of us who do not live in such exquisitely sensitive environments, it may seem as though the entire Earth is warming while our own neighborhood remains unperturbed. Of course, there are global effects of climate change that will ultimately touch all of us, including altered weather patterns and disruptions of marine and terrestrial life that could take down entire ecosystems. But for now at least, the basement is dry, the fridge is stocked, and most of us would be hard-pressed to notice specific effects of climate change as we go about our daily lives.
The difference in mean surface temperatures measured between January 1999 and December 2008 as compared to "normal" temperatures, defined as the mean measured between January 1940 and December 1980. The average increase on this graph is 0.48 degrees Celsius.
Beneath this apparent normalcy, however, the effects of climate change are visible everywhere, if we only knew where to look. And just where would that be? The average surface temperature on Earth has risen nearly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, a truly global change that is well-documented and likely to continue, but the specific effects of warming – on trees and birds, insects and flowers and local weather patterns – vary depending on the location. So how can we get a handle on how climate change is affecting life as we really know it, in our own backyards?
Warms Globally, Acts Locally
Twelve science museums across the United States are teaming up as a group called C3 (Communicating Climate Change) and reaching out to their communities to measure the effects of climate change right in their own backyards. The C3 science centers are doing this through citizen science projects, experiments that volunteers can perform to monitor changes caused by global warming right where they live.[Editor's note: ScienCentral is a media partner for the C3 project.]
There will be plenty of opportunities for anyone who likes to get their hands dirty and experience their science firsthand, so if you’re interested, call or e-mail your local science center and ask about ways to volunteer. This spring, all the participating museums will also hold public forums with family activities and expert lecturers.
I live and work in Baltimore and am involved with the C3 project at the Maryland Science Center. Over the next several months I will be writing blog entries to complement the project. Sometimes I will write about the indicators of climate change visible in the backyards of Baltimore or other C3 cities. Sometimes I will write about the broader implications of climate change and how they might touch your lives. And other times I will discuss things you can do to help work toward reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
I hope you tune in regularly and participate in discussing all this in the Comments section. Just look for the entries subtitled "Backyard Climate Blog."
Carol Berkower is a mathematician and molecular biologist living in Baltimore.
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