A Mosaic of Green and Blue

posted in: Books, Climate Change, Video | 2

By Nikoma Henkels

Climate change is huge. Global warming is intimidating and abstract. It often seems too large to comprehend, never mind to solve. As we commit ourselves to this work of sustainability and climate mitigation, we often feel overwhelmed, powerless and ant-sized in this giant world of carbon, corporations and global extinction.

How do we as individuals hope to make a difference in a world that seems to be barreling towards an inevitable catastrophe? How can we believe the work of a single pair of hands (our own hands) could change the Earth’s future? Our own future? 

Photo by Emre on Unsplash

The book Managing the Local Climate: A 3rd Way to Respond to Climate Change, by Femke van Woesik, Frank van Steenbergen, Francesco Sambelino, Hugo Jan de Boer, Jean Marc Pace Ricci and Wim Bastiaanssen addresses this issue of scale by advocating for management of the local climate, or microclimate. This book was recently launched on a webinar and panel discussion featuring experts from around the world, hosted by MetaMeta. 

We can actually create local climates that are well buffered against the predicted global temperature rise and the challenges that climate change brings.

Femke van Woesik

A microclimate is just as it sounds. The climate of a small, localized area can be quite different from the climate of the larger, particular region in which it resides due to various differences in landscape, vegetation or other small alterations. In the webinar, Femke van Woesik explains a study of an abandoned quarry in Sicily, Italy. Inside this quarry—a deep depression in the landscape, left alone for decades—it is cooler and protected from winds, leading to thicker vegetation, which in turn releases more moisture into the air, creating a positive feedback loop. 

“Not only does nature create these different local climates but we can also create conducive local climates ourselves through certain practices. This means we can actually create local climates that are well buffered against the predicted global temperature rise and the challenges that climate change brings,” Femke said. 

When I was studying for my Permaculture Design Certificate at Colorado Mountain College, my professor took the class outside on a warm, sunny day and had us all sit under the canopy of a large maple tree. Although it was a sweltering June day in the Rocky Mountains, underneath that tree it was humid and cool, and actually quite pleasant. That is a microclimate, too. 

Example of landscape restoration and water harvesting measures. Credits: Giulio Castelli

Managing the Local Climate posits that we don’t need to be able to change entire swaths of land to be able to help mitigate and adapt to climate change. Managing these local climates one patch at a time can result in a mosaic of healed land that can actually have some very large, concrete effects on the surrounding landscape. In fact, creating a patchwork of improved microclimates can create more rainfall in the entire region.

Creating a patchwork of improved microclimates can create more rainfall in the entire region.

Dr. Ronald Hutjes, one of the webinar’s panelists, climate scientist and professor of Land Use-Climate Interactions at Wageningen University, said “The big discriminator here is scale. The area that has to be revegetated or otherwise has to be improved (by rainfall harvesting techniques for example) has to be large enough so it can affect the entire valley air, thereby affecting clouds and eventually also producing rain… It does not have to be a contiguous area that has to be improved. It looks like many small patches with improved vegetation can be as effective as one contiguous large area.”

Improvements that can lead to a better microclimate can be as simple as planting a line of trees or hedges for a windbreak, planting trees in depressions so their roots can access every drop of rainfall, restoring beavers to a river to create wetlands, etc. The webinar’s audience was invited to contribute personal examples of microclimate management techniques. These examples included planting prickly pears in Malta as border plantings and windbreaks, evidence in the Philippines that even a small patch of wetland restoration increases protection from cyclones and that green roofs in Amsterdam improve the local climate despite city heat.

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

Managing microclimates is a social issue, too.

Panelist and author Judith Schwartz said “This book and this conversation fills a real gap in how climate change is discussed because it empowers people locally. Often, when we only look at climate change from a perspective of greenhouse gasses, it leaves ordinary people without agency but this is something that people can do everywhere.” 

This book proposes that every urban garden, every pollinator landscape, every ounce of improved soil contributes to a better climate, a cooler climate. It also gives advice, principles and techniques from across the globe, all of which can be adapted and applied to a variety of areas and needs. This patchwork concept allows different regions to find their own solutions. It allows people to find what works best for their area and to build upon those strengths in order to contribute to the global struggle for climate resilience and adaptation.

Watch the book launch webinar:

2 Responses

  1. Teresa Seamster

    Love this exploration of microclimes.
    We need to be preserving and expanding these cool shady and more moist areas throughout our forests and public lands rather than allowing mass ve areas to be targeted for thinning and burning and mineral extraction w/o protecting and connecting these vital resources.

  2. Chris Diehl

    So grateful for this pointer! I’ve ordered the book and will be digging in. Thank you!

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