Thoreau's Notes Show Climate Change

Reader Contribution by Jessie Fetterling

Climate change wasn’t even a figment of Henry David Thoreau’s imagination when he was living at the start of the Industrial Revolution, but his observations are proving valuable to climate change researchers today. Between 1851 and 1858 Thoreau recorded observations of approximately 500 species of plants and flowers near Concord, Mass. And though Thoreau never would have guessed it, researchers from Boston University and Harvard have been able to use Thoreau’s observations to discern changes in the climate from the 1850s to today, many of which aren’t good.

Even though fans of the author still can go visit Thoreau’s Walden pond, many of the actual plants and flowers that he wrote about won’t be seen by today’s audience. Because of climate change, a number of species are blooming seven days earlier, and many have actually disappeared. According to the New York Times, 27 percent of the species that Thoreau observed are gone and another 36 percent will soon be. And it’s not only the plants that are affected. The researchers also have found that birds are continuing to change their migration patterns because of climate change, which may be a problem if they are no longer in sync with the insects that they feed upon.

Scientists hope to continue to use the observations of Thoreau and others in their research on climate change. They specifically plan to look at which species are moving into Concord to occupy niches where some have vanished and whether or not those species are related to one another. Whatever they find, it just shows that historic documents really can make a difference in understanding today’s ever-changing world.