Spring in February?

Our planet’s ecological balance is essential, yet precarious. Recognising the rights of non-human species is critical in addressing the climate emergency, says Chris Nash.

Lavender field
Chris Nash

‘While Rome burns’ – the phrase could have been invented for the current moment of climate emergency. The facts have been established, public understanding of climate change is now as mainstream as a prime-time show with David Attenborough. Yet, we are still waiting for ecological action appropriate to the scale of the emergency. 

Recently published research by a team at Cambridge University, led by Professor Ulf Buntgen, set out to answer a critical question – is there verifiable evidence that climate change has impacted the seasonal behaviour of plants? 

Their results were as alarming as they were clear. Upon examining records of flowering times for various plant species kept since 1753, the researchers found that the average first flowering has advanced by a full month, and is strongly correlated with rising global temperatures.

As Professor Buntgen put it, “the even bigger risk is ecological mismatch. Plants, insects, birds and other wildlife have co-evolved to a point that they’re synchronised in their development stages.”

“A certain plant flowers, it attracts a particular type of insect, which attracts a particular type of bird, and so on. But if one component responds faster than the others, there’s a risk that they’ll be out of sync, which can lead species to collapse if they can’t adapt quickly enough.”

Anyone who has watched the TV shows ‘Secrets of our Living Planet’ or ‘The Green Planet’ will understand the extent to which incredible but fragile relationships between living species actually make everything on our planet work. Timing is everything – pollination, for example, has to happen at precisely the right moment. 

Clearly, a scientifically based warning that spring could soon begin as early as February should be a matter weighty enough to be raised in parliament. But, as with all matters environmental, the voices of our relatives, our families of plant and animal species are silenced. 

What are the solutions?  At the heart of the matter, we need deep cultural change to recognise the rights of plants, animals, rivers and landscapes as living beings who are as important to our communities as our friends, colleagues, neighbours and families. 

Sadly, at this moment, the majority will dismiss this as ‘cranky’, but history is the story of how the silenced gained a voice and improved the world. Women were once meant to ‘be seen and not heard’ but now women’s voices around the world are leading and being heard, often delivering progress. In just the same way, the voices of nature must be heard too.