Whoopsies! An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes and thoughts from Charlie Miller to Annette Mills.
Whether it be in a political ad or a debate at the dinner table, the term “climate change” is everpresent in our national dialog—but not often enough is it broken down in a tangible way. This, of course, doesn’t mean it is a difficult thing to do. Climate change is very active everywhere, including right here in the Willamette Valley. If you’ve noticed any smoke from wildfires in recent months, you’ve already borne witness.
According to the Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report, “Impacts of Changing Climate Conditions of the Willamette Valley (2017),” with current greenhouse gas emissions, Oregon’s temperatures are expected to rise by three to seven degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050’s and five to eleven degrees Fahrenheit by the 2080’s.
Each effect of climate change belongs to a delicate and dynamic cycle of issues; one problem leads to many, which in turn produce larger socio-economic impacts – potentially with the force to create societal collapse. The following is a picture of what to expect as climate change continues to take its toll on the Willamette Valley.
Heat and Health Hazards
The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition is a network of partner organizations including OSU and other schools and businesses working together to build an environmentally sustainable community. Facilitator Annette Mills references the Northwest Climate Science Center, founded by OSU, in forecasting longer drier summers, which we are already experiencing. Warmer stream temperatures, water quality, irrigation, reservoir management—all problems when the watershed is disrupted. This is in addition to more precipitation in winter, which collectively leads to greater chances of flooding. And of course with drier summers, chances of wildfires will only increase as well.
It’s a dangerous trend not just from an ecological point of view, but it also comes with health repercussions. Mills commented that more respiratory problems will arise from the resulting air quality issues, including asthma, and both insect-borne and heat-related illnesses.
Charlie Miller, affiliated with local grassroots climate change group 350 Corvallis, said that predicted effects of climate change aren’t solidified, given that along with climate change comes great variability and greater difficulty predicting conditions.
“The actual list [of effects] is much larger, a fat catalogue. Growing seasons are shifting and longer. Animal migrations and plant ranges are shifting. Some birds do not go so far equator-ward for winter; lilacs bloom weeks earlier than traditionally; disease vector mosquito ranges shift Poleward.”
Linnia Hawkins, a PhD candidate at OSU and member of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute said that heat waves will occur more often, last longer, and be more intense. Hawkins reported that between 2050 and present day, the intensity of days with high wildfire-specific particulate matter (solid and liquid particles in air such as dust or pollen) is projected to increase by 58 percent to 173 percent across the Willamette Basin Counties.
OSU Sustainability Officer Brandon Trelstad commented on pending seasonal weather patterns, noting, “If that gets more extreme [there will be] all sorts of implications for food systems and water systems—energy systems too.” Trelstad uses the example of increased electricity consumption from air-conditioning as summer temperatures rise.
Trelstad heads a small group of seven tracking OSU’s greenhouse gas emissions. “Our primary focus is really energy conservation,” he said.
The OSU sustainability program has operations all across the state, measuring greenhouse gas emissions down to the chicken—literally. They’ve been recording data since 2007 and have reduced carbon emissions greatly when the numbers are normalized to account for population growth. They don’t predict any major drops in emissions over the next five to ten-year period but do predict gradual reduction.
Although climate change is primarily thought to be a physical issue, it expands beyond this, according to Kris Paul, who started the environmental organization 350 Corvallis in 2012.
“There has been a lot of science that studies all the effects on our physical world that can be modeled and measured, but we don’t hear as much about the socio-economic effects of climate change. That’s a lot trickier to quantify, but I believe it’s the thing that will affect the most people,” he said.
Hawkins also discussed the way in which climate change disproportionately affects certain groups more than others. Its effects will be felt hardest, she said, on undeserving populations such as the homeless who don’t have access to climate-controlled spaces; rural communities without access to nearby hospitals; the elderly and low-income populations; and outdoor farm workers.
Drier seasons will complicate irrigation practices, and a change in temperature and precipitation patterns will affect plant growth and soil moisture in the agricultural community. Effects on agriculture will lead to increases in food prices and these impacts will hit the lower socio-economic classes the hardest and have the potential to drag more people into poverty. At the same time, Oregon will see an increase in population as climate refugees flee increasingly uninhabitable regions.
Already among the top influx states for years, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest have long been predicted as refugee destinations due to the wet, oceanic climate. The Seattle Times reported in June that the states of Oregon and Washington have experienced the least amount of warming in the last 30 years.
“There are a lot of people moving into Oregon right now, and many of them are leaving areas that have been affected by floods and fires,” said Paul. “After this fire season, I’m willing to bet there will be many that have lost homes in California looking at relocating here. This is going to exacerbate the problems we already have, such as lack of affordable housing.”
A Societal Collapse
Paul dove deeper to say that a societal collapse is really the end result. “Increasing numbers will be homeless and hungry, and desperate times can bring out the worst in people.”
Society has begun to move past the idea that climate change is non-existent, and as the science surfaces the next stage of denial is the statement that humans have had nothing to do with its development, said Paul.
“We need to look at what the scientists are finding,” he said. “Scientists have tools to take multiple types of measurements and to look back at the earth’s records hidden in places like trees and ice cores. We need to listen to the scientists, not the politicians.”
Paul continued, “Money is an influence that corrupts, but it’s the politicians, not the scientists, that are corrupt. The politicians get a lot of money from the oil companies, that’s where the big money is, and that is who stands to lose the most from us shifting away from fossil fuels.”
Miller harrowingly concluded, “All I know is that we cannot get off suffering no harm. There will be new problems.
“Keep in mind that the problems others suffer, even people as far away as Oaxaca, Australia or Bangladesh also have costs that we must pay,” she said.
By Josephine Wallace