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March 3, 2015

The winter of my discontent

March 3, 2015

It’s almost impossible for me to think about freakin' butterflies when it’s snowing. Again. Sigh. Really? More snow? And it’s not just a few flakes – it’s a complete whiteout with driving wind, drifting snow, icy roads and a lot of angry people in mid-Michigan – including me. I’ve had enough.

I get it. I live in Michigan so cold winters are to be expected. But it’s March now. March is supposed to be about St. Patrick’s Day, basketball madness, flying kites and warmer temperatures. And yet, here we are in March and it still feels like the middle of winter. I haven’t seen my grass in months and the drifts are so high I have to shovel the lawn so my dog can do her business without getting stuck. It’s been so brutally cold in the last month that I found myself cheering at temps in the double digits. Literally cheering – for 18 degrees. Fahrenheit.

But, let me get back to the butterflies. The ones I’m finding hard to think about when I feel like I’m in the winter that will never end. Lest you wonder why butterflies are on my mind at all or think my brain has actually frozen and isn’t working correctly, let me explain.

As the editor of a news site, a lot of things come by my desk. Yesterday, a piece written by Elise Zipkin, an assistant professor in the Department of Zoology, ended up in my inbox. She runs a Quantitative Ecology Lab that works to identify climate and habitat factors responsible for changes in species. Her goal is to understand how climate and environmental change impact populations and communities.

One project they’re working on is modeling monarch butterfly populations across North America. Monarch populations have been declining, particularly over the past few years. As a result, the monarch is currently under consideration for listing as an endangered species. As I read about her work, that’s when it hit me. While I looked out the window at swirling snow, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a butterfly. It almost doesn’t seem possible I’ll ever see one again. So I went digging through our photo archives to find a photo of a monarch on campus (which you can see above) just to remind me that eventually spring will come. It will, right?

The article also talks about other projects involving the National Park Service, amphibians, wind energy and seabirds. Ahhh…more things to help me remember what spring and summer are like, even while the forecast for tonight is a low of 1 and tomorrow’s low might be -2 degrees. Butterflies...butterflies…try to think about butterflies. Read the FACULTY VOICE: Solving Conservation Puzzles, to learn more about Zipkin’s work, and maybe even think about sunshine and butterflies.

Zipkin is an expert in the field of conservation and ecology, but it doesn’t take an expert to see how everyone can play a role in protecting the planet. Recently, four students from the Honors College majoring in education, embarked on a project that showed just that. Maxx Marano, Megan Bergeson, Erin Oldani and Emily Aron, who eventually want to teach elementary students, had a goal to communicate with others the power of coming together to create change.

Using information about climate change from their integrated science education course, they challenged other students to calculate their carbon footprints and then implement ways to make it smaller. They created a large wall display with their findings to show that even small efforts can make a difference. Read their STUDENT VIEW: Small Changes, Huge Impacts, to see their display and learn more about their project.

I read about climate change and all I can think about is wanting the current frozen climate to change…soon. I read about footprints and all I can do is wonder when my footprints will be in sand instead of snow or from bare feet instead of boots. I read about butterflies and am reminded of something American author Hal Borland said, “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”

So I hang on to that a little while longer. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading about researchers and students who are working every day to make a difference. Whether in winter or spring, during snowstorms or sunshine, in East Lansing or around the world, Spartans will keep working hard to create change and protect this planet of ours.

Spartans Will.


Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday

Photo by Derrick L. Turner


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