Don’t be fooled by the cooling relief Western Washington is receiving this week. It’s a mirage.
The reality is that our climate trend is changing, and not in a good way. Signs that something’s amiss have been popping up with uncomfortable regularity in the Pacific Northwest.
Day after day of temperatures over 90 degrees this month break records in Western Washington, resulting in fans and portable air conditioners flying off store shelves.
Firefighters battle a record number of wildfires because of hot, dry conditions. The state spends $35 million to fight wildfires even before the hottest month of August arrives.
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Flukes? Sadly, no. Although the region is experiencing cooler temperatures this week — and even a good chance of rain — it’s too little too late.
Some experts tell us that what we’ve been experiencing in Washington is part of a trend toward hotter, drier summers and winters when what little precipitation that falls is mostly rain instead of much-needed snow. Last winter’s record low snowfall means there’s less runoff to irrigate fields and fill reservoirs, and it’s why Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency in May.
It’s not just the Northwest. California is experiencing historic drought, forcing drastic water use reductions. More than 1,200 Pakistanis and 2,500 Indians died in deadly heat waves this summer. And drought shares the blame for unrest in the Middle East.
Last year was the warmest on Earth in the last 135 years, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with 2015 shaping up to be even hotter.
All the significant markers are trending in the wrong direction: Greenhouse gases and extreme weather events are increasing while Arctic ice is decreasing. A warmer Pacific Ocean could spawn a “super” El Niño this winter, essentially unleashing a spigot of water – and damaging mudslides and flooding – on the West Coast. That would also lead to extreme weather around the world, including drought in India, Australia and the Philippines; stronger typhoons in the Pacific; and freezing winter cold in Europe.
Some climate experts fear that we’ve passed the point where greenhouse gases can be reduced enough to reverse global warming – even if consensus is reached on what action to take. Still, this is a fight that we can’t concede. The industrial world, which contributes the most emissions, must lead the way to reducing them. Developing nations can hardly be persuaded to take steps that might slow their progress if countries like the United States don’t set the example.
In 2014, carbon dioxide emission levels began rising again in the U.S. after several years of decline, likely due to the expanding economy. But there’s good news: Vehicle emissions are flat, as more of us are driving hybrids, electric cars and more fuel-efficient vehicles. Alternative and renewable energy use is up and now accounts for almost 12 percent of the country’s domestic energy production.
Action on climate change will take center stage later this year. Pope Francis is sure to address it in his speech to a joint session of Congress Sept. 24, and United Nations climate negotiations will take place this December in Paris. U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres describes the conference as the last chance for a meaningful agreement to keep greenhouse dangers from reaching dangerous levels.
It’s a chance the world can’t afford to miss.