In the State of Washington it is clear that human caused climate change is real, is occurring and is set to have increasingly harmful impacts on the State and the broader Pacific Northwest, especially if we do not curb emissions going into the future.
Already temperatures have increased in the region by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895 and annual average temperatures are set to rise by another 3.3 – 9.7 degrees by 2070-2099, depending on how much we let global emissions rise.
Already we have seen an average of a quarter loss of snowmelt with just this 1.3 degree rise, and we can expect further loss along with decreased summer precipitation of up to 30% by 2100 especially if we allow global emission to continue to rise. This will greatly impact our agriculture, hydropower, and other water needs which will have to compete with each other during projected summer time droughts.
Climate change threatens our rivers and iconic freshwater fish species, as increased temperature and changed river flows will increase disease and mortality. For instance, suitable habitat for four trout species is expected to decline by 47% on average by 2080.
Our oceans are acidifying at a rapid rate, and the Puget Sound serves as the canary in the coal mine for ocean acidification. Already “the ocean is so acidic that it is dissolving the shells of our baby oysters,” says Diani Taylor of Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Washington.
Our oceans are also rising, and according to the Risky Business report, “If we stay on our current path, sea level at Seattle will likely rise by 0.6 to 1.0 feet by mid-century and by 1.6 to 3.0 feet by 2100. Looking out to the tail risks, though, there is a 1-in-100 chance of up to 5 feet of sea level rise in Seattle by the end of the century. This is worrying given that in Washington and Oregon, more than 140,000 acres of coastal lands lie within 3.3 feet in elevation of high tide.
Finally, our forests are in significant danger too, as climate change will alter Northwest forests by increasing wildfire risk and insect and tree disease outbreaks, and by forcing longer-term shifts in forest types and species. One study found that if temperatures rise 3.2°F by mid-century, this could lead to 54% increase in the annual area burned in the western U. S.
What is clear is that if we allow emissions to go unabated, Washington, along with the rest of the United States and the world, will suffer from increasingly worse impacts from climate change. It is imperative that we both prepare for possible impacts and do our best to reduce emissions so as to avoid the incredibly damaging impacts that come with a significantly warmer world.