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Editorial: Climate assessment predicts forest loss

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 10:52 am

The problem with global warming is that people don’t think globally, no matter what bumper stickers may urge to the contrary.

To really get any attention, changes must be felt locally. The draft National Climate Assessment released last Friday comes closer than anything before to identifying what is happening or about to happen in our very own hometowns.

People living on the Pacific Northwest Coast can take comfort in some of the predictions. Overall, however, we are little better off than the poor coral-atoll dwellers who expect their entire nations to disappear beneath the waves. We should emulate them by getting far more politically active.

The entire assessment is available at http://ncadac.globalchange. gov. Its predictions are based on different sets of assumptions. Based on the ineffectiveness of the response so far, it’s probably fair to assume the worst-case scenario will be what plays out in reality.

On the somewhat positive side:

• Our proximity to the relatively cold waters of the vast North Pacific means that places like Clatsop and Pacific counties are less likely to see the life-threatening extreme temperatures predicted to grip the nation in a scenario of continuing higher emissions of carbon dioxide and other atmosphere-warming gases. The coastal strip from the Olympic Peninsula to Northern California will see average annual warming of 5 or 6 degrees during the remainder of the century, compared to 8 to 9 degrees over a huge swath of the nation’s interior.

• The three Northwest states will, on average, get 18 more frost-free days per year – lengthening growing seasons but also allowing more pests to survive the winter.

• Drought won’t be a year-round problem here, with precipitation actually perhaps increasing slightly during most of the year. But summers will be dramatically drier, with a decrease of more than 30 percent.

• We and Hawaii will have the smallest increase in very heavy rain or snow storms – just 7 percent more here, compared to 74 percent more in the Northeastern states.

All this is, however, overwhelmed by negative impacts.

• The worst of these pertain to the ocean. To quote the Northwest segment of the assessment, “In the coastal zone, the effects of erosion, inundation, threats to infrastructure and habitat, and increasing ocean acidity collectively pose a major threat to the region.” Though there is still much uncertainty about details, we may see more tidal flooding, loss of shellfish and other problems relating to melting ice sheets, thermal expansion of seawater and chemical changes.

• The amount of coastal forest lost to fires in coastal Oregon and Washington is expected to increase 400 to 500 percent.

• Changes in Columbia Basin stream flows will impact salmon migration and survival.

The climate assessment leaves no doubt that humans are driving climate change. We should be agitating for lower emissions as if our lives depended on it. 

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