Residents of Southwest Washington don’t need to look at climate change as some hypothetical future event. We are, like the rest of the planet, living it.
Weather changes from day to day, and we are looking forward to a bit of relief from the latest heat wave. But climate is long-term weather patterns, and those patterns have clearly changed. It is past time for giving any credence to those who try to deny mountains of scientific data that suggest the planet is warming and that human activity has contributed to that warming.
The contiguous United States this year has endured the warmest May on record and a June in which the typical temperature was 3.0 degrees above the 20th century average. Locally, a heat wave combined with drought conditions are wreaking havoc. “The heat is giving us hell,” farmer Joe Beaudoin told The Columbian. “It started last year, actually, because of the extreme heat. We burned up about three-quarters of our raspberry and Marionberry vines. Last year’s vines are this year’s crops.”
Which brings up the salient point about any discussion surrounding climate change. It is not a matter of whether the earth is warming; it is a matter of the impacts that are being felt and will grow more severe in coming decades.
In one example, the Washington State Department of Health reports: “Droughts could mean fewer fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. This is a major concern as a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is a good way to help prevent chronic disease issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.” In another example, state officials point to expected changes in crop productivity, reduction in livestock productivity, and increased agricultural stress from extreme weather events, invasive weeds and pests.
Washington is not alone in feeling these impacts. A new report from Purdue University’s Climate Change Research Center suggests that Indiana farmers will see declining yields in corn and soybeans — the state’s largest crops — and that livestock will face heat stress that leads to rising production costs.
One of the most profound — and least-discussed — effects of climate change is expected to be an increase in climate refugees. As nations in warm climates that have less-sophisticated farming techniques see their crops dry up, hundreds of millions of people will face starvation or seek refuge in the milder climates of North America or Europe. While the United States needs to have discussions about its current refugee policies, leaders must prepare for a more problematic situation in coming decades.
In Washington, climate issues will include rising sea levels that impact coastal communities and economies. A new report from Washington Sea Grant and the University of Washington details expected sea changes for 171 coastal sites between now and 2150. “We’re trying to get our minds around the problem and figure out how to build infrastructure that’s going to last,” said Jim Parvey with the city of Tacoma.
That must concern leaders and planners in all jurisdictions, be it at the local, state or federal level. Washington voters in November will weigh in on Initiative 1631, a climate-change related measure; while we have not examined the measure to determine whether it is the best approach for the state, it is clear that climate change cannot be ignored.
In Washington and elsewhere, climate change is being felt on a daily basis. The states that adjust to that reality are the ones that will thrive in the future.