Bryce Harper’s Unusual Hit Speaks to Climate Change Impacts

Climate change is often a subtle devil.  While in 2011 we witnessed $35 billion in insured losses from climate change-fueled extreme weather, many of the other impacts progress incrementally each year until they accumulate enough to be noticed, or even worse, we start accepting them as the everyday norm. And sometimes an innocuous event can provide a window into how climate change is already impacting the everyday in ways we don’t even think about.

A recent hit by young Washington Nationals’ star Bryce Harper may foretell some everyday effects of climate change. (Photo by MissChatter/Flickr)

One Remarkable Play

Take baseball. Two weekends ago, one window into climate change impacts opened up in Atlanta. During a 8-4 victory, Nationals rookie phenom Bryce Harper hit an apparently ordinary single into right field against the Braves. Harper, however, hustled around first base as an unsuspecting and nonchalant Jason Heyward mishandled the ball. Harper roared into second with a double–a highlight reel play. Great play by the kid, but what could this possibly have to do with climate change?

In reviewing the play, Nationals’ announcer F.P. Santangelo talked about how the ball “snaked” (rolling in an unusual direction on the dry grass) on Heyward and caused him to misplay it. Other players like Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton have also complained of the ball “snaking” in the Atlanta outfield. Santangelo continued to explain that there are recurring grass problems at Turner Field as the grounds crew tries to deal with extreme weather in Atlanta.

What about Heyward’s play on the Harper single when he took extra base?

“I think the ball snaked on him and it popped up, and Harper just kept running, kept running with his head up. We’ve got it in the reports that this guy runs everything out – hard. We misplayed it, and you’ve got to give credit to Harper that he took second base on it.” Atlanta Manager, Fredi Gonzalez

Climate Change, Drought & the Braves Infield

Atlanta has been suffering from droughts for well over five years. It is currently in moderate drought conditions and residents are under water use restrictions. It has even been ranked as the 12th riskiest drought city in America by one source. This drought is one manifestation of our changing climate.  The U.S. Global Change Research Program has studied climate change impacts and the future of drought in the Atlanta region and stated:

Georgia Drought Map (Image courtesy Faul/ Flickr)
Decreased water availability is very likely to affect the region’s economy as well as its natural systems. Increasing temperatures and longer periods between rainfall events coupled with increased demand for water will result in decreased water availability. The 2007 water shortage in the Atlanta area created serious conflicts between three states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which operates the dam at Lake Lanier), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with protecting endangered species. Such competition for limited water supplies is expected to continue.

Not only does this extreme weather wreak havoc by causing baseballs to “snake” in the dry grass of Turner Field’s formerly verdant outfield, the hot and dry conditions that have been gripping Atlanta made the infield too dry and fast.  As a result, this year the grounds crew replaced the entire infield with a different turf capable of dealing with the climate extremes and slowing down the ball.  The ground crew chose a replacement turf grass called paspulum.  Paspulum is drought-resistant turf grass–in fact, a 2008 special issue of Greenskeeper International (See p. 39) highlights that paspulum is a turf of choice for dealing with rising temperatures as golf course managers confront the new rigors of climate change.

A Call to Action

Even a simple baseball play can be viewed through the prism of climate change and the way it is forcing us to adapt our behavior, even in one of our of most beloved cultural institutions. Frankly, I’d have been happy if Bryce Harper had collected a single, the Nats won, and the Braves didn’t have to replace their entire infield. That said, the play served as a reminder that we need to take action on climate change now more than ever.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just released proposed limits to the carbon pollution from new power plants. The new standards will, among other things, require new power plants to emit approximately 60% less of the carbon pollution that is contributing to climate change. Supporting these carbon pollution limits can help tackle the impacts of climate change that threaten to alter things like baseball and wildlife even more the in the future.

Take Action

 Send a message the Environmental Protection Agency in support of carbon pollution limits.