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When we talk about the impacts of climate change, we tend to think big. Increasingly intense storms, rising sea levels, killer droughts  — the worst predictions of scientists are difficult to fathom. But are there smaller, more obvious changes we can latch on to?

Tick, tick, tick. (Photo by dr_relling via Creative Commons)

That’s what American Public Media’s Public Insight Network is trying to find out. In a partnership with BBC, PIN is gathering ordinary people’s observations about how climate change is affecting the world around them.

Jeff Jones, a producer for PIN and frequent candidate for smartest person in the room (and, in the interest of full disclosure, a former colleague) offered Highwire a glimpse of what they’re learning so far.

Out of 300 responses from around the world (including 70 from Minnesota), the common threads are changes in weather patterns and animal and plant behavior. Respondents report shorter and stronger monsoons, changes in bird migration patterns, and more successful gardens (my tomato plants were evidently out of the loop on this).

But the big surprise? Ticks. “Everyone’s talking about ticks! We have responses from all over the U.S., Germany and Japan talking about the rise in the tick population.” This would seem to support longstanding concerns of scientists that climate change will lead to a rise in infectious diseases.

The next step for the project, Jones says, is to run the responses by scientists to determine if the public’s observations can really be considered indicators of climate change. We’ll be following along.

Ken Paulman

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.