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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest
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Plant Life Valerie Easton

Taking The Heat

Tackling the climate crisis can begin right in our own backyards

Patty Gluck may spend her time making policy, but her strategies for solving the climate crisis are down to earth.

First, get rid of your gas mower, if you aren't going to rip out your lawn altogether. Gas mowers are so inefficient that running one for an hour generates as much pollution as idling 40 late-model cars for the same length of time. Glick recommends a hand mower or an electric one, which is what she uses in her own garden on Queen Anne Hill. Yes, she still has lawn because her dogs love to play on it, but balances that out with plenty of butterfly-attracting plants and a mower she plugs in.

Glick has a master's degree in economics and worked on energy issues in Washington, D.C. For the past decade, she's been a senior global-warming specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, where she recently authored "The Gardener's Guide to Global Warming: Challenges and Solutions." "This is one of the first agencies that has tried to connect the dots to inform people about climate change," says Glick. "Yes, it's a global problem, but it's affecting us in our own backyards."

Glick remains optimistic, despite all the bad news about fast-melting polar ice caps. "It's a critical time internationally," she says. "The Kyoto treaty is being implemented without us, but we (the U.S.) haven't closed the door entirely. We need to step right back in, and I think we will."

Meanwhile, Glick wants gardeners to realize that their practices have planetary impact. The scientific community pays close attention to what we're seeing happen in our gardens. Birds are arriving earlier in the spring, and lilacs are flowering two weeks earlier than they did just 30 years ago. Might this be the result of natural weather patterns? "There's no legitimate debate anymore that says what's happening is natural," says Glick flatly.

She warns that if climate change continues at this pace, the coast rhododendron, our state flower, may not thrive here by the end of the century, and the Oregon grape may no longer be native to Oregon. Sea level may well rise a foot by 2050, costing us at least half of our beaches.

Weather will grow only more extreme and unpredictable. Expect less snowpack, drier summers, wetter winters. Plants are stressed by these extremes, so more susceptible to insects and disease.

What should we brace for in the months to come? "La Niña is building in the Pacific, which usually means cooler, wetter winters," Glick says. "But it's hard to predict, as climate change throws a monkey wrench into what La Niña means."

Lest we get too discouraged, Glick reminds us that nature is enormously resilient if we work with natural systems rather than run roughshod over them. Besides nixing the gas mower, what can we do in our own backyards? Create a rain garden (more on this in a future column), and use a rain barrel to reduce runoff. Reduce impervious surface by choosing gravel or groundcovers over concrete. Use drought-tolerant and native plants to reduce water consumption. As climate change drives ecosystems out-of-sync, pollinators are decoupled from plants. Gardeners can help by planting a diverse array of blooming plants that flower early and late.

A tremendous amount of yard and kitchen waste goes into landfills, resulting in methane emissions. When you compost at home, turning and oxygenating the pile, you end up with a rich organic fertilizer rather than polluting methane. And when you use your own compost, you won't need to buy manufactured fertilizers that take a tremendous amount of energy to produce. For more ideas, download Glick's "Gardener's Guide" at www.nwf.org/gardenersguide or contact her at 206-285-8707, ext. 104, or glick@nwf.org to order a free hard copy.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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