You know “they” say, “April showers bring May flowers.” Yet, every year I find myself eternally disappointed by the mist, rain, and damp ground. Spring is my favorite season, so when the temperature heads upward into the 50s, 60s, and even the rare 70s, I put on my shorts enthusiastically and head out into the world. Then, after the few days of heat and sun, the temperature inevitably drops into the 30s and 40s and the rain comes pouring down for weeks on end. What a tease! But moreover, what do the unending weeks of rain show about our ever-changing climate?
Yes, the saying “April showers bring May flowers” is an old wives’ phrase. However, a “shower” is literally “a brief fall of rain.” The rain we now get in April, which has ostensibly increased over the past decade, is now weeks of unceasing rain. So, I went to the NOAA website and found the amount of rainfall in April in Portland, Maine from 1883-2010. To find this information, click here. Based on this data, the average rainfall during April in Portland, Maine throughout the last 29 years of the 19th century was 2.91 inches. During the 20th century, the average rainfall was 3.8 inches — almost a full inch more of rain. Finally, from just 2000-2010, the average rainfall was 4.68 inches — again almost a full inch more of rain than the previous century during the month of April in Portland, Maine. We’re only just at the beginning of the 21st century and we’re already averaging nearly a full inch more of rain than we did during the 20th century. This raises a few questions.
The first question to address is: Why is this happening? The obvious answer is climate change, but that’s too simple. I wanted to know exactly how climate change was increasing rainfall. The answer to this question is actually one of the simplest things to understand about global warming. With the increase of carbon remaining trapped in the atmosphere, global temperatures are increasing; that much is obvious. However, the warmer the atmosphere, the more moisture can be held in it. In fact, about 4% more moisture can be held in the atmosphere for every degree Fahrenheit that the temperature increases. So, when it rains, there is more water vapor available in the atmosphere to fall down, meaning more intense storms.
The more important and complicated question, though, is: What does this mean for our environment and lives? Although I would love to explore each ramification of increased rainfall in-depth, this post is meant to illuminate issues for further research rather than explain each one away. Some concerns that arise because of the increased rainfall are increased flooding as well as increased droughts. Increased flooding is an obvious concern; with heavier, longer-lasting storms, flooding is likely to become a more common issue. Droughts, however, may also increase in severity and frequency. This is because of the warming atmosphere that we pointed out earlier. Rain only falls when the atmospheric temperature and pressure drops. So, if the atmosphere is warmer for longer, then it follows that rain would fall less frequently, causing droughts. Yet, the most pressing concern caused by increased rainfall is ruined crops. America produces far more food than we need — which is ironic because so many are hungry and food insecure, but that’s another issue — so, we don’t need to worry about not having enough food in our grocery stores. BUT failing crops lead to bankrupt farmers, and bankrupt farmers lead to increased government subsidies. Now, there are lots of things to be said about why increased government subsidies are detrimental to the environment, but the main thing is that the government is subsidizing the wrong crops, the monocultures. Monocultures are one of the most prominent polluters in the agricultural sector, which itself is the biggest single source of pollution in America. So, not only do increased government subsidies mean higher taxes for you, but also that we’re stuck in a feedback loop of carbon in the atmosphere –> increased rainfall –> more government subsidies –> repeat. This feedback loop only makes the situation perpetually worse.
So, we’ve come to the final question: What can we do about it? Well, the answer involves many parts and needs many, many, many hands to make any difference. Moreover, the answer is pretty much the same as the answer to solving every environmental problem facing humanity. First, EAT LOCALLY. Eating from local farmers and vendors shortens the chain of distribution which cuts down on carbon pollution. Second, EAT ORGANIC. Eating organically forces the government to see that subsidizing pesticide, insecticide, fungicide full monoculture farms is NOT what the public wants or needs anymore. It also means you’re supporting farms that don’t feed into the loop of pollution because they aren’t part of the problem. Third, DO ANYTHING TO CUT DOWN ON CARBON IN THE ATMOSPHERE. Although the first two solutions are more specific to the problem of failing crops, any way that you can cut down on producing carbon means that there will be less rainfall in the first place, thereby treating the cause, not the symptoms. Like I said, this is basically the answer to all environmental issues. And like I said, it takes everyone acting to even have a hope of reversing the trend of climate change. BUT it’s still important to do your part and try your best.
“April showers bring May flowers,” like every old wives’ saying, is adopting a new meaning in the 21st century because of the growing force of climate change and global warming. Who knew the rain, fog, and mist outside my window was so directly related to our lifestyle habits? What will you do to help our environment today?