Saturday, October 27, 2018

What will Climate Change Mean for Outdoor Recreation in Arkansas?

Climate change will probably make poison ivy, ticks, and mosquito-borne illnesses worse in Arkansas while shortening the number of good floating, hiking, backpacking, and running days. Arkansas stands to benefit greatly from embracing technologies and agricultural/land-use practices that prevent carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere or help remove it. Now that I made sure you read that much, here is a more gradual introduction to this post:

Since I've published two Arkansas trail guidebooks and hundreds of posts on this site, hopefully you can tell that I'm passionate about the Natural State and about getting people outdoors to enjoy its incredible and diverse beauty. A lot of you might not know this, but I have a PhD in Environmental Dynamics, a MS in Environmental Engineering, and helped research parts of the NYT bestseller Drawdown which details the top 100 climate solutions.

Inspired by a recent tweet and this article, I decided to write a post on the impacts of climate change on outdoor recreation in Arkansas. I know lots of people who read this blog might not acknowledge the role human activities are playing in the rapidly changing climate, but I'm writing this anyways and hope if you are one of those people you'll read this and feel free to message me with questions. If you think I've gotten any details wrong, please let me know!

I'll start by saying, there is no doubt (in the scientific community) that humans are causing climate change and that the impacts of this are already being felt. Those changes are, and will be, felt most by the poorest and most vulnerable among us, but we will all be impacted.

While Arkansas is lucky and not likely to suffer the worst effects of climate change in the coming decades, you CAN expect your experience in the great outdoors to change in these not fun ways:

1. Poison ivy will get worse.
Scientists have shown that poison ivy and poison oak love a little extra CO2! Unfortunately for us, that means climate change is making these plants grow faster and larger!

This poison ivy loves climate change and wants to tell you all about it! Lean in closer!

2. The number of good floating days will decrease.
Climate change is bringing both longer dry spells and bigger floods to Arkansas (and many other places). This will likely mean more days when rivers are too low or too high to float!

This is the Buffalo River and its going to look like this more often.

3. Mosquito-borne illnesses will get worse.
New (to Arkansas) diseases will spread, while others that have been around will likely get worse. Think West Nile, Zika, dengue, etc. Good times.

4. Same with ticks!
This page has great info summarizing reports by Arkansas Game and Fish on the impacts of climate change in Arkansas, but in short, it isn't good. Ticks and the diseases they spread will get worse in Arkansas.

This tick says "Hi and thanks for the climate change!"

5. Summers will get hotter.
When I was born, Little Rock hit 90 degrees or more an average of 65 days a year. Now that happens 80 days a year. By 2060, 90+ degree days could be a reality for more than 100 days a year! Those are not good conditions for hiking, backpacking, or running! They might be nice for floating, but see #2 above.

You can find the stats for your hometown here.

For Fayetteville the numbers are:
90+ degree days per year:
When I was born: 42
Now: 51
By 2060: 76

What you can do:
Ok, so hopefully you are convinced that climate change due to human emissions of greenhouse gases is not going to be great for outdoor recreation in Arkansas. Luckily there are lots of ways you can get involved in addressing this issue.

As an agricultural state, Arkansas can do a lot to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and into our vegetation and soil. Landowners could even get paid for doing so if we supported policies to make that happen. In fact, some Arkansas farmers are already making money from California's climate-related policies!

If you want to get involved locally, check out these organizations and the references and resources below.

Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club
The Arkansas Citizens' Climate Lobby
Audubon Arkansas
Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light

References and Resources: