Climate change means less snowpack in the mountains leaving alpine forests vulnerable to forest fires

Hell to pay for climate change

Becoming a Resilient Region

Right when you least expect it. I had it well in hand. Locked and loaded. Primed to launch a barbed blog entry that would have knocked your socks off. Now I have to pivot. Change tone and tune. Well, I’m nimble if anything. It was a one – two punch. Here’s how it came down.

University of Washington College of Environment Dean and Forterra Board member Lisa Graumlich landed the first punch. She gave a stunning presentation last week in our offices about climate change and resiliency in the Northwest. Well sure, the prospect is grave – Lisa came with ample, readily understandable data and analysis to make it inescapable. But here’s what I didn’t see coming. Lisa offered us a glimmer of hope – the possibility that we could meet the challenge of our lives, respond meaningfully and propel ourselves to a better, more inclusive community.

The second punch really was more like me walking into a door. My own doing. I intended to highlight a vast chasm between what we believe and what we know, our culture vs. our science, by juxtaposing the number of Americans who believe in the Devil with the number of us who currently recognize human caused climate change. Like so much of our politics today, I was assuming room in our collective world view for one or the other, but not both. This is where my sanctimonious sharp-edged context was to come in – my revenge for Lisa’s inadvertent blow by showing that far more people believe in the Devil than the science of climate change. So there, Dean Graumlich! Back-at-cher.

Well, after a ten minute search on the Internet, turns out they’re both about 60%! The sharp point I was raring to make with this blog entry blunted by crashing into that door. But, damaged ego aside, it’s pretty good news. Now stay with me.

First off, 60% of Americans agreeing to the existence of human caused climate change is a muscular majority in our democracy, a politically potent number. The other bit of good news is that a recognition of climate change apparently is not antithetical to ingrained religious beliefs – else we wouldn’t have two 60% majorities. There may be space in the public square for a frank conversation about climate and how we best respond, without threatening our deeply held core beliefs. So while the Devil we know might be ole Beelzebub, as a community there should be a way for us to recognize we will have hell to pay if we don’t seriously address climate.

Human caused climate change is a major threat to the sustainability of our region
Photo by Bradley Hanson

As Lisa explained, the Northwest can expect climate change to result in more rain and less snow pack, which will affect everything from salmon critical in-stream flow regimes to the quality of downhill skiing. Storm surges will severely impact our coastal communities and fire will redefine our east and west side forests – and not for the better. That ray of hope finally broke through the clouds when Lisa took us down a path to becoming a resilient region. Our resiliency to climate change will depend on:

Minimizing disruptions in the face of shocks and stresses Recovering rapidly when they do occur Adapting steadily to become better able to thrive as conditions continue to change

Meeting these three verbs head on, minimizing, recovering and adapting, will require a fundamental transformation in the way we live and our communities function.

For instance, designing our cities to reduce the heat island effect, and as a consequence make them more livable as we make them more climate resilient. Thinking holistically about how our wild and working lands relate to our built communities, which as Lisa pointed out, is another way of describing Forterra’s work under our Cascade and Olympic Agendas. And fundamentally understanding that the path to a resilient community is not just a technical puzzle, but, will require a deeply integrated and inclusive community that welcomes everyone and where everyone has a voice in the conversation about how we respond to climate.

So where does this leave us? Making our community livable and welcoming to all will be fundamental to building the cohesion called upon to respond to the biggest threat we have faced in our collective experience as a Northwest community.

Despite my opening braggadocio, I am really not all that nimble truth be told, but I am thankful. Thankful to Dean Graumlich for providing a measured dose of optimism as we face the hard work ahead. Making our community a better place to live will make us more sustainable and more climate resilient and the sooner we get started the better – before we have hell to pay.