This Month in Climate Change (Local Version)

This article was published back on Valentine's Day, so it's rather old news now, as news goes, but it's apropos of the kind of spring we've been having so far.

The article highlights what it calls 'extreme, high-impact weather', which includes temperatures in excess of 49 degrees in some parts of Australia. The global average was 0.4 degree warmer than the calculated average for the previous three decades.

In our corner of the world, we weren't affected as drastically as all those places on the roster list of blizzards, floods, and fire tornadoes, but the spring in Tottori this year and the weeks leading up to it were weird.

At the end of 2018, farmers in Kentucky described the extraordinarily mild winter that preceded the growing season at the beginning of the year, followed by a sudden drop in temperatures that killed a large portion of the crops that had begun to grow.

It wasn't as bad here in 2019, but we did have to wait significantly longer to start planting than we usually do. For most vegetables targeted for the climate of the Chugoku region, seed marketers recommend against planting before overnight temperatures can be guaranteed to remain above 10 degrees. We had few nights that warm before the Golden Week.

For comparison, we started in early- to mid-April for the majority of crops for the past three years.

On our little patch of land, we scrambled to get the earth churned up and get everything planted over the course of a few days in the middle of the extended holiday. Normally we spend several weeks weeding, filling up ditches with compost and building mounds and crop rows, but there just wasn't time.

The odd thing about this season was that the fig trees all started bearing fruit very early--but it was all tiny, inedible, brown fruit that dried up and died before the holiday. At present there are several new green fruits appearing, and they seem to be of the normal size. The rose bushes are all flowering normally, which is a good sign.

On the other hand, we may be in for an Australian-style summer. Or not. The scary thing is that there doesn't seem to be any way of knowing. (Confirmation bias had me convinced for a while that the science and technology of weather forecasting was becoming increasingly accurate over the past few years. Now I'm not so sure. At the very least, I learned not to use the built-in weather app when I had a smartphone, after being told enough times that it was currently sunny in Tottori when I could see and feel the pouring rain for myself.)

Beyond mere uncertainty as to whether or not our tiny farm lives or dies for the duration of the growing season--after all, we can always go to the farmers' market down the street, so long as food is grown somewhere in the country--there is a much darker overriding fear for the general future of agriculture.

Just last month, Biological Conservation published research indicating that 40% of all insect species might be gone within the century. Pesticides are named as the primary culprit, but it's not hard to see the link with the alteration in climactic patterns in various regions changing the habitats of various species inspiring the greater use of chemicals that exacerbate the problem.

Of course, insects don't make such sensational news as polar bears in the hallway.