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Voices of Change: Serena Li & Phil Ting

Serena Li and Phil Ting, a young Jamaica Plain family, voice their concerns on climate change.

by Kate Frazer

We often hear what climate change means from scientists, but what about concerned Conservancy members and supporters? How will climate change affect their lives and their children’s future? Watch and listen to the thoughts and concerns of a young Jamaica Plain family on this pressing issue.

Every year on Mother’s Day, Jamaica Plain residents Phil Ting and Serena Li head to the Arnold Arboretum for Lilac Sunday, an annual celebration that marks spring’s full arrival and the blooming of more than 200 varieties of lilacs.

But as climate change brings higher temperatures to Massachusetts, lilacs are blossoming earlier each year, prompting the couple to wonder just how long this neighborhood tradition will continue.

“Twenty years from now, the climate may have shifted so that the blossoming of these flowers no longer coincides with Mother’s Day,” says Serena. “That’s just one example of how the world our children inherit might differ from ours,” she adds.

“When my daughter is grown, will she be able to spend Mother’s Day smelling the lilacs with her own children?”

What if Nature Misses a Beat?

As New Englanders, seasonal rhythms shape our lives and traditions. But on a broader scale, these rhythms are also the planet’s pulse: everything from agriculture to the health of our fisheries depends on coordinated processes of migration, breeding and blooming. While we do not know exactly what will happen if the timing gets thrown off, we know that every link in the chain is critical.

“It’s not one thing we want to protect,” says Serena. “We want to protect nature’s ability to adapt to rapid change.” “Everything will be impacted — animals, the ocean, even the vegetables we grow in our garden,” Phil adds. “We need to protect the entire web of relationships.”

Everyday Life: Detour Ahead

It’s hard to imagine Massachusetts missing the spruces and firs that blackpoll warblers seek each spring, the cold-water streams that support brook trout or the sugar maple bushes families tap for maple syrup. But while some plants, animals and natural communities will move to places where they can survive, others will have no place left to go.

That’s why projecting climate change impacts is a key part of meeting the challenge. The Nature Conservancy is partnering with academics and other research institutions to create tools — like Climate Wizard — that make data and projections more easily accessible.

Investing in Nature

But once we know what changes are likely to occur here, how do we keep ahead of the curve? Serena and Phil frequently have discussions about what approach is best: top down or bottom up. Ultimately, they believe a combination of the two is needed. 

“People need to make changes in their daily lives like gardening more and driving less, but we also need policies that provide incentives for people and businesses to change,” says Serena. “The Nature Conservancy works locally to protect lands and waters in our own backyard and can also sit at the table with governments to help them make informed decisions.”

The Conservancy’s work on BioMap 2.0 is a prime example of just that. The organization is working with the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, the University of Massachusetts and the Manomet Center for Conservation to integrate the most current information about wildlife and their habitats, their vulnerability to climate change and their ecological resilience into a statewide map of target conservation lands — and will get the map into the hands of people who can actively protect them.

Nature itself holds many solutions,” says Phil. “Coastal marshes can reduce the impact of destructive storms and forests can absorb and hold an incredible amount of carbon dioxide. One of the best strategies we have for hanging on to the things we need and the things we love is to invest in the ability of our lands and waters to protect us.”

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