Climate change, water resources, invasive species, energy choices: It’s all related - and it can make us anxious!

Scroll down to each of these topics. Each contains links to additional information:

  • The “New Normal”
  • New York State’s climate in 2100 will resemble Georgia’s today
  • Climate change and water availability
  • Climate change and energy choices
  • Climate change and invasive species
  • Adaptation Anxiety: Acceptance of change is difficult 

The “New Normal”

Over the past several years, Finger Lakes residents have had to deal with extreme weather events and their consequences. These include unseasonal or extreme cold or heat, “too much” or “too little” rainfall or snow, previously rare events such as tornadoes, and “100 year floods” that seem to have become annual events.

Invasive species originating in warmer climates are moving north, exemplified by the sudden threat of Hydrilla to Cayuga Lake (and potentially across the Great Lakes Basin), and the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid to our steep-banked, cool-water creeks.

Readers with more than a few years behind them will recall growing up in a stable, dependable climate, and the seasons stayed where they belonged. But now, we need to understand and deal with the “new normal”: The scientific consensus is that extreme weather events and invasive species are local indicators of the global warming trend now underway.

Maps, graphs, and additional information:

Why climate change matters: 

US temperature trends:

Light-hearted, fact-based information page, suggested by students at the W.B. Goodwin Center  

New York State’s Climate in 2100 Will Resemble Georgia’s Today

These recent heating effects are greatest at the poles: the Arctic and Antarctic are losing ice more rapidly than predicted, leading to loss of cold climate species habitat and economic impacts to human residents due to permafrost melting, shifting seasons, and new sea lanes opening as the ice melts. Here in the Finger Lakes, the weather extremes we have been experiencing are the creaks and groans in the system as the region shifts long-term toward a warmer climate.

Research carried out by the Union of Concerned Scientists and others indicates that, by the year 2100, New York State’s climate will closely resemble that of Georgia’s today. Between 2011 and 2100, we will see big changes in human and natural habitats that will affect us all profoundly. Southern species will shift northward, and some of our best-loved species (such as sugar maple) will be much more restricted. Only the northerly parts of New York State will have extended periods of snow cover.

Maps, Graphs, and Additional Information:

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) global warming information: 

UCS report: Confronting Climate Change in the US Northeast 

UCS report: New York - Confronting Climate Change


Climate Change and Water Availability

Farming, gardening, energy use and water use for recreational, domestic, municipal and industrial uses will have to adapt to an emerging climate characterized by less frequent, more intense rain and snow events, and drier, warmer summers. Growing seasons are already shifting by a few days, and reliable water sources are becoming less so.

Maps, graphs, and additional information:

USGS Climate and Land Use Change: 

USGS Water Resources of the US: 

NYS Water Resources Institute: 

Cornell Climate Change Facts: 

Climate Change and Energy Choices

When combusted, fossil fuels release gases – carbon dioxide and methane among others – which rise and concentrate in the upper atmosphere, preventing heat from radiating out into space, leading to a rise in temperature around our one and only planet Earth.  

Efforts to regulate, legislate and lessen fossil fuel emissions – and thus slow global warming and climate change – have slowed at the national and global level. We must do what we can, locally and regionally, to lessen the use of fossil fuels and to put a brake on the speed and intensity of the climate changes coming our way.

Maps, graphs, and additional information:

The necessity of reducing emissions:

Energy planning in the Cayuga Lake Watershed and nearby:;

"Powered by Poop: Aurora Ridge Dairy benefits from switch to biogas generator" via

What you can do:;


Climate Change and Invasive Species

Early symptoms of climate change include extreme weather events and warming events that allow the spread of species into regions where they previously could not survive the cold.

The invasive species presently bedeviling Cayuga Inlet in Ithaca, Hydrilla verticillata, is from temperate latitudes similar to ours in Korea, and survives well in northern climates: it is not a true climate change opportunist. However, the mild winter of 2011-12 helped hydrilla survive and prosper. As with the Asian Clam infestation in Owasco Lake to the east, the “new normal” weather benefits the spread of these aquatic invasive species.  [Go here for our Hydrilla information page]

Another aggressive invasive – this one attacking the hemlocks in our gorges – is the aphid-like Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae, or HWA). A true climate change opportunist, HWA has been making its way north for decades with terrible destructive force, sucking the life out of majestic old hemlock stands in southern mountains and valleys, and turning the hemlock stands in New Jersey’s wilder places and Pennsylvania’s uplands into brown skeletons.

Why is HWA a problem? It destroys one of our most beautiful, evocative trees. In ecosystem terms, hemlocks are a keystone species for our cool creeks and their biodiversity. If hemlocks die, creeks will be exposed to the sun and warm up, and steep shale banks will erode and collapse, altering creek habitat and sending warmer, turbid waters to Cayuga Lake.

Cornell’s Mark Whitmore is a forest ecologist and nationally-recognized expert on HWA, which first appeared in the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 2008. He has been mapping its spread and advising on limiting its immediate impacts, and is also concerned about the Emerald Ash Borer’s potential for ecosystem destruction/transformation, in this period of rapid climate change.

In 2009, HWA was found on hemlocks in Cornell University’s Cascadilla Gorge and around Beebe Lake. In response, a collaborative project, involving Cornell Plantations, Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources and Mark Whitmore, was organized to track and where possible mitigate HWA impacts. A trained group of citizen-stewards carry out regular monitoring for the spread of HWA in Six Mile Creek, Edwards Lake Cliffs, Fall Creek, Fisher Old Growth, Lick Brook, Steep Hollow, and Coy Glen. This local effort is part of a larger project, led by Whitmore, to meet the challenge of invasives by increasing stakeholder knowledge and involvement. That means you!

Maps, graphs, and additional information:

Cornell Plantations invasive species web pages:

HWA infestation maps:

Fact Sheet, Early Detection of the HWA:

Network News article: “Quick fixes and the sustainable long haul,”NN 2012/2


Adaptation Anxiety: Acceptance of change is difficult

In a situation of rapid climate change, when are we mentally ready to let the hemlocks go? Long-term, can we really prevent the takeover of our lakes by green mats of suffocating hydrilla, and impacts from other invasives steadily wending their way into warming places? Beyond the next few years, can we realistically expect to keep our cool creeks and clear waters? Can we still stop our planet reaching the dreaded “tipping point” of no return?

How do we mentally deal with these sudden adjustments and nightmare scenarios? Many people are grieving and dismayed, and terrified at the accelerating pace of climate change. A 2011 NASA/JPL study reports that, by 2100, “global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth's land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type -- such as forest, grassland or tundra -- toward another.” The study further states that the rapidity of change “will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth's water, energy, carbon and other element cycles.”

 One way of moving beyond fear of the unknown is to begin to build an idea as to what the future might be like: mapping the unknown. Tools for our new education and mental adaptation (links below) include understanding how trees and birds will shift as the climate warms; and the climate change adaptation suggestions from Freshwater Future and CAKE (Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange). 

See also the link below to a January/February 2013 article in Orion magazine by Paul Kingsnorth, "Dark Ecology." A friend comments: "So elegantly conceived and beautifully written recognizing where we are and that we can't go back.  He lists 5 steps for what to do while the situation unfolds." 

Maps, graphs, and additional information:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory 2011, December 18. Climate change may bring big ecosystem shifts, NASA says. ScienceDaily; Jon C. Bergengren, Duane E. Waliser, Yuk L. Yung. Ecological sensitivity: a biospheric view of climate change. Climatic Change, 2011; 107 (3-4): 433 DOI:10.1007/s10584-011-0065-1.

Freshwater Future’s Climate Adaptation Toolkit:

Mapping climate change adjustments: At this site you can “Examine current distributions and modelled future-climate habitats for 134 individual tree species or combined species by geographic areas,” and look at “The current and modelled distribution of 150 bird species”. In other words, you can click to see maps of where your favorite trees and birds will be in the future based on differing greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

CAKE (Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange):

Paul Kingsnorth, "Dark Ecology" Orion Jan/Feb 2013:


Change is not comfortable. It is distressing and frightening. We can ignore this climate change freight train coming at us; we can say “It won’t happen until after I’m gone” – or we can begin to think and plan ahead in a meaningful way, that can lead to an increasingly different, eventually transformed – but healthy, sustainable – landscape and life for our descendants. Let’s keep talking, thinking, and being creative. Quick fixes are good for what ails us right now; the sustainable long haul is necessary for what comes after us.



Jan/Feb Orion by Paul Kingsnorth called "Dark Ecology" about these issues.  So elegantly conceived and beautifully written recognizing where we are and that we can't go back.  He lists 5 steps for what to do while the situation unfolds.