by Luke Poliszcuk

As winter unwinds into spring here in Japan, it is impossible to ignore the inevitable barrage of invitations to the traditional annual cherry blossom viewing parties known locally as hanami. The Japanese provide forecasts, based on records extending back decades if not centuries, predicting down to the minute when the flowers will be in full bloom and ripe for enjoyment by casual picnickers and business people alike. This year the sakura are scheduled to be in full bloom in late March, nearly a week earlier than the average, so get your picnicking gear ready.

Light-heartedness aside though, the historical record of sakura blooming times holds a darker side. The changing regimen of the blossoms provides yet another body of evidence for the impacts of climate change. Cherry blossoms blooming a week early may not seem like a drastic impact to most but this is indicative of one of the complex interactions found in nature. Many animals and insects rely on the blossoms as a major food source for themselves and their young, and while some of these may also be adjusting their breeding seasons or migration patterns to match local temperatures, others rely on different cues such as day length and those that cannot adjust will be severely impacted by the changes.

In November 2009, a media storm popularly known as “climategate” blew up over some emails that were hacked from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK. On the one hand, we may well wonder why these “hackers” took it upon themselves to steal private emails sent between climate research scientists (thrilling reading I’m sure) and broadcast them to the world. On the other hand, while “climategate skeptics” may claim that a few lines taken out of context from private emails “debunk” climate change, they fail to acknowledge all of the data detailing ongoing impacts and future dangers of the continuing climate crisis outlined in thousands of pages of peer-reviewed journal articles, university studies and research organization data from all around the world.

Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist and senior vice-president of the World Bank and adviser to the UK government, is one of the most vociferous in demanding that not only should the overwhelming body of scientific knowledge on climate change be acknowledged by mainstream media and other organizations but also that governments need to start acting immediately and decisively on the issues of both mitigation and adaptation. In his book, A Blueprint for a Safer Planet, Lord Stern outlines a number of technologically and economically viable options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while accommodating the need for sustainable development, particularly in economically disadvantaged developing nations.

So this hanami season, while you are out enjoying the bounty of the cherry blossoms, spare a thought for those animals and insects that are missing out because human-induced climate change is disturbing the cycles of nature. And while you are at it, try to minimize your direct disturbance on the local landscape by taking your own reusable containers and implements, and recycling or disposing of trash responsibly.