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Climate Consensus
Alex Steffen, 6 Nov 04

We live in the era of climate change.

We've written before about climate foresight and the need to move beyond denial into action. Well, we now have a stunning regional example of the kinds of problems we can expect to face.

49 leading scientists have come together to prepare a "Scientific Consensus Statement on the Likely Impacts of Climate Change on the Pacific Northwest." [PDF] It documents in some detail the kinds of changes we can expect in this region over the next 10 - 50 years.

It's pretty grim reading. On the other hand, it's also pretty darn useful to get a grip on the kinds of transformations climate change is likely to wreak on a specific place, if only as a tool for helping us think through what kinds of responses we need to plan.

Here's the highlights tape:

There's been a 1–3° F rise in temperatures across the region since 1975. We've lost 50% of the snowpack in the Cascades in the last fifty years. The sea is rising and the forests burning.

"Scientists have intermediate certainty that average temperatures in the Pacific Northwest will continue to increase in response to global climate change. Assessments suggest that the average warming will be approximately 2.7° F by 2030 and 5.4° F. by 2050. These projected increases are highly likely to result in a higher elevation treeline, longer growing seasons, longer fire seasons, earlier animal and plant breeding, longer and more intense allergy season and changes in vegetation zones." Remember the Wenatchee fires? Get used to 'em.

"Sea level is very certain to continue to rise ... maximum wave heights will likely also increase, resulting in increasing erosion in coastal areas. It is very certain that ocean circulation will continue to change in response to ocean-atmospheric processes. ...It is uncertain whether these changes will have adverse impacts such as more frequent occurrences of the low-oxygen (“dead zone”) events seen in 2002 and 2004." Estuaries and near-shore habitat will get hammered.

Remember, these scientists aren't just saying these things could happen, they're saying this is what's likely to happen.

Remember, too, that while these projections are specific to the Northwest, comparable changes of one sort or another (some less extreme, many possibly worse) will occur elsewhere. Your weather's gonna get weird too.

This is the world we now live in. What are we going to do about it?

(Oh, and, once again if you're one of those right-wingers who still attacks the validity of climate science, do us both a favor and go do some research before spouting off in our comments section.)

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Tsk! Those scientists. Always trying to scare people so they can get more grant money!


Sorry, I was channeling a Slashdot poster there for a moment. There are a lot of people out there who *make* that argument, and never question the F.U.D. from the fossil fuel industry and their think-tank shills.

Studies of regional effects is a great way to get people riled up and working on the problem, but ultimately we're going to need national leadership on the problem.

I'd even settle for a national lack of complicity in the denial efforts.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 6 Nov 04

I really like the way that the article here describes the localised impacts of climate change. From my biologist's eye this is a really neat description of the interface between geological processes and ecosystems.

Posted by: The singing fish on 7 Nov 04

I guess now is a good time to start buying recycled toilet paper and compact fluorescent lights, guys.

Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 7 Nov 04

TP makes a trivial contribution, and it's not even clear if recycled is better than virgin.

The number one contribution you can make is to burn less motor fuel.  Get the most efficient vehicle that will suit your needs, and drive it to best advantage.  Advocate increases in gasoline taxes (probably not going to go anywhere except California).  Guzzler taxes and truck restrictions (to ban mega-SUVs over 6500 pounds from local streets) might help too.

Get your utility to reduce net powerplant emissions with wind power.  Insulate and seal your house, and use window shades and overhangs to capture useful sunlight and screen out unwanted summer heat.  If you live in a dry area, whitewash your roof in the summer.  Get the building codes changed so that inefficient buildings cannot be sited.

There's more, but you can't make one trip to K-Mart and let yourself think you've finished the job.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 7 Nov 04

Yes, we all ought (and can!) maximize our personal efforts to do the least climate harm.

but we also need to brace for the fact that climate change is here and we need to deal with that as well...


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 8 Nov 04



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