Earth Day sheds light on climate change close to home

2013-04-22T00:00:00Z 2013-04-22T20:03:06Z Earth Day sheds light on climate change close to homeLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

Ryan Richardson knows all too well how global climate change can affect local lives.

Richardson is vice president of operations at Hobart's County Line Orchard, which lost its entire crop of apples last season due to extreme weather. That reduced revenue and delayed expansion plans.

"Whether you call it global warming or climate change, the intense weather really does have an impact," Richardson said.

This year's international Earth Day theme is "Faces of Climate Change," a campaign aimed at sharing stories of people affected by the issue.

Richardson and his staff are among the faces.

"In mid-March (2012), the trees were already breaking out of dormancy a full 35 to 40 days ahead of schedule," Richardson said.

The trees bloomed, honeybees pollinated them and apples were on the trees by April 7.

When the frost hit in May, "it was so cold, it killed the seeds that were in the apples."

The entire crop was lost. Not only did revenue dip as a result, but the orchard also had to buy apples from as far away as Washington and Colorado to provide to customers at a much higher cost, Richardson said.

"We had a huge cost of goods increase," Richardson said. "From a business perspective, it makes it hard to grow. It put a pause on things and delayed some of our growth in terms of things we wanted to do last year."

Bob Daum, chief of resource management for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, said climate change is already taking a toll on the park.

Daum said last year's early spring caused "a mismatch of timing in biology" that harmed the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly -- native to the dunes and played a role in the area's being designated as a National Park Service property.

"Because of the very warm weather, the eggs of the Karner blue hatched early," Daum said. "The larvae feed on one plant only, the wild lupine, but that hadn't emerged yet."

The lupine's growth depends more on the amount of daylight hours than temperature, he said.

"The larvae basically starved to death," he said. "That hit the population really hard."

Lake Michigan's water levels are at record lows, due to last year's drought and increasingly warmer winters.

"When you get warmer winters, there is no ice cover so you get more evaporation," Daum said. "One impact of that is that our beaches are much wider, so you have more exposed to the wind."

The result, he said, are dunes shifting more rapidly.

According to Daum, Mount Baldy shifted some 18 to 20 feet in 2012 as a result, about three times more than in an average year.

Last year's extreme heat also sent ozone levels soaring. Last week, Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Tom Easterly reported LaPorte County no longer meets the Clean Air Act standard for ozone due to spikes at the Michigan City monitor.

Abigail Derby Lewis, climate change ecologist at The Field Museum in Chicago, said health issues are a concern, even for those without pre-existing respiratory issues.

Dr. Daniel Netluch, chief of emergency services at Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Crown Point, reported last year the number of hospital emergency room visits spiked for patients with respiratory ailments.

Last week's flooding rains also point to climate change concerns, Derby said.

"Extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent and severe as the Earth warms and accumulates more moisture, can indirectly impact people by causing flooding that affects residents, public transportation and bridges, electricity shortages and changes in energy demands, and increases in municipal costs for landscaping, road maintenance and emergency responses," Derby said.

Derby said leaders need to incorporate climate change concerns and mitigation efforts in their long-term development plans.

"We need to be thinking about implementing adaptation strategies that will enable both people and nature to be resilient in the face of climate change," Derby said.

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