Making maple syrup in a hotter world

It's hard to take big-picture global temperature increases and bring them down to a personal level—partly because of that confusion between weather and climate, and partly because scientists simply have a better understanding what is very likely to happen in an averaged-out global system, than they have of how changes in that global system are likely to affect your backyard.

I like the way Climate Wisconsin is trying to bridge that gap. First, they use interactive visuals to show the local symptoms of climate change, like rising average temperatures and fewer days of ice cover of Wisconsin lakes. Then, they connect those symptoms to Wisconsin life. If these trends continue, what impact will they have on things like fishing, forestry, farming and, yes, the making of maple syrup.

It's a hard line to walk. The family featured in this video has recently experienced some of the worst years for making maple syrup in four generations. But, because weather isn't climate, next year could be better for them, even as the climate, overall, continues to warm. At the same time, though, climate change is likely to have long-term impacts on where and how well sugar maples can grow—and when, and for how long, their sap runs in spring.

I think this video and the related essay do a better-than-average job of making that distinction. This family won't be out of business next year. But, over time, climate change is very likely to make this work harder for them. The harder it gets, Wisconsin traditions associated with maple syrup making will become less common—and the 5-million-dollar syrup industry will bring less money to the state.

Also, I just finished re-reading Little House in the Big Woods, and it's fun to see how the process of maple syrup production has, and hasn't, changed since Grandpa Ingalls threw a sugaring-off party at his Wisconsin cabin in the late 1860s. Check out the taps they hammer into the maples. They look just like the Little House illustrations, but instead of draining into wooden buckets, the sap now flows into plastic bags.

Thanks to agroman for Submitterating!