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A Window on a Greenhouse World
Alex Steffen, 6 Nov 03

Life in the greenhouse: what'll it be like? How will our lives and communities be impacted by the changing climate? The answer varies depending on where you live and which models you credit. But any sensible planning for the future has to take into account the heavy weather headed our way.

Take, for instance, this Northwest Environment Watch report on climate change in Washington State. It may be about a small corner of the world, but the kind of changes it explains are a window on the kind of change we'll all be dealing with:

"Based on results from eight different climate models... the region will experience a warming in the range of 3.1 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2040s. A few degrees may not sound like much, but the likely consequences are serious, threatening the Northwest's water, forests, coasts, and farms."

"By mid-century, if winter temperatures in the Northwest warm 5 degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing level should move about 1,700 feet upslope. That's enough to put ski areas like Snoqualmie Pass out of business (and lay off more than 1,000 wintertime workers).

"But in such a scenario, defunct ski areas will be the least of Washington's worries. Because of the conical shape of most mountains--the higher you go, the smaller they get--rising snowlines mean drastically less total snowpack. A 1,700-foot rise would shrink the area of winter snowpack in the Columbia Basin nearly in half. Reduced snowmelt could cut the Columbia River's flow by up to 15 percent during the next 20 years. When it comes to water, scarcity means competition. In drought years, not only do suburban lawns turn brown, but salmon die, farmers go bankrupt, and electricity prices climb."

"Sea levels will rise nearly 20 inches over the next 100 years, according to scientific predictions. Protecting ourselves will cost money. The cumulative cost of sand replenishment, for example, to protect coastal land, infrastructure, and buildings is estimated to cost between $143 million and $2.3 billion in today's dollars. Among Washington's major cities on the sound, Olympia is particularly vulnerable, and will likely require the protection of dikes...."

"Forest fires will burn more frequently and probably more intensely. The risk of catastrophic fires in the central Washington Cascades, for example, could triple."

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