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A Digital Farmer's Almanac -- How Communities Track 'Microchanges' in Climate

New America Media | 2/11/2013, 11:08 a.m.

The face of the environmental movement has been traditionally white, despite the fact that ethnic communities and immigrants have long championed environmental rights and protections, and polls find they want cleaner air and water and clean energy. How could the iSeeChange project change that?

I would say that immigrant communities are the ones who are the best positioned to see these microchanges in the climate because of their relationship to the land. One of the reasons iSeeChange works so well is because in Paonia, Colo., you have a natural resource community. People here live off the land. They derive their livelihood off the environment. Immigrant communities know that really well. In a way, it would be really interesting to have an ISeeChange in a Vietnamese community in coastal Louisiana who are attuned to microchanges in the environment over time.

You're in rural Western Colorado, so how do you talk about climate change there?

In ironic, because in Paonia, half the town are miners and the other half are organic farmers. We have a coal mine in town owned by Bill Koch. When we first started to promo iSeeChange, the radio station heard from some listeners that it was a misuse of resources. [In Paonia], there's a part of the community that doesn't believe in climate change. Mostly, people I am working with are white...they may not be wealthy, they may not buy into climate change, but they do pay attention to how the weather's affecting water [supply]...we all have common ground. Weather - it's a little bit 'Eliza Doolittle' -- you can talk to anyone, anywhere about the weather.

Right now, iSeeChange is locally focused [on Paonia, Colo.], but could it have a global lens as well?

Yes, right now, it's geared for the community. The weather feed has info relevant to the community. But we're getting clips everywhere. We got a post from Baltimore, saying that spring flowers were blooming earlier in Baltimore.

We envision websites for three environments - rural, urban and coastal. We're exploring how it could or should be modified for urban climate change, how it can be adjusted for coastal climate change.

Climate scientists say that weather is not the same thing as climate, but there's so much mingling of extreme weather events and climate change now in the minds of the public. There seems to be value in talking about climate change through weather, but is it also misleading?

Scientists are much closer to saying the weird weather is indicative of climate change. That's what the almanac is about. Extreme variability in the environment. This tool allows us to map the noise...we can see that sustained number of bizarre events at the same time is telling us something. For a drought series we did, we looked at the changes in the behavior of the jet stream has on heating temperatures in the Artic. Jet stream is the river of air and as it slows down...it can contribute to the weather pattern persisting. If dry weather is what we're seeing lately, it is more likely to continue to be dry and if it's more wet, it will continue to be wet.

So iSeeChange is recording what you call microchanges in the environment. Is it also mapping how people are adapting to the changes?

We're interested in that too. Scientist and ranchers and farmers are all seeing the same thing...farmers and ranchers are making a decision. What do they do on their farms and ranches? We're interested in mapping the decisions. That's a core question that ... iSeeChange tries to answer ... as the environment is changing, how are we changing too? That's the whole point of the project. A digital almanac...to document what 2012 has done to us, how it changed us.

We had a earlier spring, flowers grew earlier, markets weren't ready for some of the food, people ran out of water, they decided not to plant...people selling off [farm] animals right and left. This has been an epic year.