From Storm Clouds to Rainbows - Climate change and how families can help - MetroFamily Magazine
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From Storm Clouds to Rainbows – Climate change and how families can help

by Erin Page. Photos provided.

Reading Time: 5 minutes 

As a child, Oklahoma City meteorologist Emily Sutton won a contest to talk with her town’s mayor about the importance of recycling. Her focus on caring for our Earth has persisted into adulthood. A mom now herself, Sutton says adults could use more of the wonder kids instinctively embody about the natural world, as well as their resolve to make a positive difference.

METEOROLOGIST EMILY SUTTON HAS REPORTED ON OKLAHOMA’S EXTREME WEATHER FOR THE PAST 14 YEARS.

Sutton has been experiencing Oklahoma’s extreme weather firsthand for 14 years. She started her job with KFOR just a few weeks before the infamous 2009 Christmas Eve blizzard. This past summer, she reported the state’s all-time heat index of nearly 127 degrees in Jay, Okla. Weather extremes like these can be a scary subject for kids. As a frequent speaker to school children, Sutton has a knack for helping kids understand these topics and empowering them to devise impactful solutions.

We interviewed Sutton to get her take on the impact climate change is already making on our state, the implications for the future and what families can do now to turn the tide.

We think of Oklahoma as being a common place for weather extremes — but what are some of the extremes we’ve seen the past few years that you’d classify as abnormal?

Within 14 years of being here — even by Oklahoma standards — we’ve had many abnormal weather events, starting, for me, with the Christmas Eve blizzard of 2009, which brought 14 inches of snow. We had the hottest summer on record in 2011, with 63 100-degree days (during which I decided to train for a triathlon!). In May 2013, we had two violent tornadoes hit major metropolitan areas, which is unheard of since less than 1 percent of tornadoes are classified as violent (EF4 or EF5). Only a week and half later, we also had the widest tornado on record, which was 2.6 miles wide with measured winds to nearly 300 miles per hour. This last summer, we set the all-time highest heat index in Jay of nearly 127 degrees. And those are just a few examples.

It’s easy to see how climate change affects farmers and others whose livelihoods are tied to the weather. But how does climate change affect everyday families here in the metro?

I recently interviewed ranchers and farmers in Loyal, Okla. as they’ve watched the climate change through the years. They’re experiencing longer periods of prolonged drought. The past few winters, we’ve experienced La Niña, or unseasonably warm and dry conditions. Now we’ve switched to El Niño, which can mean below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation but doesn’t guarantee it. The impact for [these] farmers is that these temperature changes take a toll on cattle. Warmer years can mean more disease; colder years can mean more cattle dying off or needing extra coal to keep the cattle warm.

These effects on agriculture do impact everyone. We think grocery prices are high right now, but as we have more extreme weather, we all pay out of pocket for that.

Small temperature changes also mean insects are sticking around longer, so the mosquito season is longer. We also now have insects that have never before migrated this far north. The pollen season is longer, which can translate to more or worse allergies. Everything is connected to our weather.

Climate change can be triggering and political for some — but at the end of the day, you don’t have to believe in climate change to believe in droughts and floods. Science is science. This is our planet — we are all living here and we should take care of it.

What are the implications for Oklahoma’s future?

The extremes we’re noticing in our weather now will be normal for our grandchildren. The USGS (United States Geological Survey) climate models are in high agreement that Oklahoma can expect our temperatures to be hotter by about 2 to 5 degrees by mid-century, which isn’t that far away, depending on carbon emissions. With lower carbon emissions, OKC can expect an average of 10 additional 100-degree days each summer. With higher emissions, we’d have 20 to 30 additional 100-degree days.

We’re going to have to have rapid adaptation for infrastructure, electricity, roads and waterways. While we’re forecasting the same amount of precipitation on average, it’s going to happen in bigger bursts followed by longer periods of drought, which means more flooding. Our waterways, dams and roads are not meant to deal with that. It means more sinkholes and washed-out bridges, not to mention a rise in wildfires.

Weather can be a scary subject for kids — especially in Oklahoma. How can parents talk to our kids about climate change effectively and how can we make positive changes together?

We always say, ‘don’t be scared, be prepared.’ Knowledge can help take away kids’ fears. Learn together. The National Weather Service and drawdown.org offer great resources. Then start doing things that help take care of our planet. Take out the recycling together. Start composting. Minimize plastics. Take shopping bags to the store. Look into solar panels or wind energy.

It may seem overwhelming, but kids especially think they can take on the world. We can be inspired by them and leave a better planet for our kids and grandkids. Collectively, we can all use these mitigation techniques and we can vote for opportunities to help our planet.


Weather vs. climate

climate change, emily sutton
SUTTON TEACHES KIDS ABOUT OKLAHOMA’S WEATHER THROUGH KFOR’S WEATHERSCHOOL PROGRAM.

Weather is what we experience every day.

Climate is the weather scientifically calculated over decades, specifically, weather averages over a 30-year period.


10 ways families can slow climate change

Can one family really make a difference when it comes to combating climate change? Amy Young, founder of OKC sustainability-focused educational center SixTwelve, says when families work together, we can move the needle toward positive change.

“Making small, consistent changes over time can have a significant impact,” said Young. “It’s essential to involve children in these practices and create a supportive community that shares common goals for sustainable living.”

EDUCATIONAL CENTER SIXTWELVE TEACHES KIDS AND FAMILIES TO EMBRACE MORE SUSTAINABILITY-FOCUSED LIFESTYLES.

Young shares 10 ways families can help slow climate change and love our planet:

  1. Educate children. Teach children how living a more sustainable life helps the Earth, plant and animal life and our fellow humans.
  2. Be mindful of waste disposal. Consider what you can recycle instead.
  3. Compost food waste. Food waste takes much longer to break down in a landfill, which releases more gasses and speeds up climate change.
  4. Conserve water with water catchment systems. A rain barrel is a great way to start.
  5. Plant native species in your yard, which contributes to biodiversity and also serves to conserve water. Consider symbiotic relationships, like plants that attract pollinators or planting garlic to keep aphids away from other plants, to improve sustainability.
  6. Improve your soil quality. Use compost to enrich your soil and consider practices like permaculture and raising worms to enhance soil health.
  7. Reduce paper and plastic usage. Instead of using paper towels or napkins, use washable, reusable alternatives.
  8. Support local businesses and corporations that prioritize environmental sustainability.
  9. Be politically aware. Stay informed about political initiatives related to environmental conservation. Choose candidates who prioritize green legislation and value environmental preservation.
  10. Find a community of others committed to sustainable living. Research initiatives and best practices together and then encourage implementation.

Sound overwhelming? Young advocates families choose just one step to focus on at a time. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to do it all,” advises Young. “Integrate one thing per season that you can lovingly do for yourself and your family.”

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