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Celebrating Earth Day, an intergenerational guide to the future

Guest Opinion in the Medford Mail Tribune

by Dominick A. DellaSala, Camila Thorndike, and Jim Furnish

One of us is a scientist, the next a young climate activist, and the third the former Siuslaw National Forest supervisor and Evangelical Environmental Network board member. What do we share in common?

Across three generations, we deeply respect nature, love our families, and are gravely concerned by the dramatic impact of carbon dioxide pollution that is triggering climate disruptions. We have each committed our lives to common-sense solutions for climate stability. 

Our lives are enriched by the natural world. Yet no matter where we go, from the magnificent temperate rainforests of Oregon’s coast to the distant reaches of the polar ice caps, we see the world changing dangerously fast. We read the chaotic signature of deforestation in Amazonia and the view above our own Rogue Valley, where clearcuts greatly outnumber the remaining mature forests.

But it was the eerie weather this year that made global environmental disruption a personal reality. During a single week in February, Southern Oregon swung from near-drought conditions to flooding creeks and then back to dry and unusually mild conditions with little snow. Climate change pollution makes unpredictable extremes the new normal. 

Oregonians depend on snowpack. Snowmelt fills the reservoirs that allow us to irrigate orchards in the dry summer months, and replenishes stream flows for salmon and outdoor recreationists. Snowpack dipped below 50 percent of historical levels this year, and Mount Ashland never opened, mirroring regional trends of declining snow levels since the 1960s. Although snow loss will accelerate as the world overheats, we can act now to prevent worst-case scenarios. There is so much left to save.

It is up to our generation to decide that it is wrong to leave our children a hot, dry, exhausted world. Consider these facts. 

According to a 2005 global report called the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, 16 of the 24 benefits we derive from nature are in severe states of disrepair. These benefits are basic needs such as clean air, clean water, fish, wildlife and productive soil. The unraveling of creation is socially and economically expensive and immoral. Recent estimates indicate that the accumulating debt of natural capital will cost society more than $121 trillion globally in lost benefits by 2050, barring sudden reversal. We will forfeit more than the entire global Gross Domestic Product by not acting now.

So what can we do? What can you do? 

A simple first step is to talk to each other more in our churches and synagogues, schools and back-yard gatherings. Each of us has a story to tell about the changes in our region that inspire us to work with nature to create a more sustainable culture and economy.

We can all promote prudent measures to halt global warming pollution. A federal carbon tax and dividend is the best means to incentivize conservation, transition to clean energy, and stem our appetite for fossil fuels. This steadily rising fee levied on the extraction of oil, coal and gas is the most reasonable way to discourage free carbon dumping and reward corporations, cities and individuals for climate-friendly choices. The 2015 Oregon Legislature should pass a carbon tax and dividend to catalyze this long-overdue policy at the national level.

While fossil fuel use drives climate disruption, deforestation results in more climate change pollution globally than the entire transportation network. We can encourage private landowners to set aside older forests that gather and store atmospheric carbon, for which they would receive monetary benefits. Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are considering following California’s lead with a program that allows polluters to pay landowners to offset emissions through improved forest management. On our public lands, we need to follow the lead of the Siuslaw National Forest, which replaced logging older forests with job-producing restoration projects. Older forests make our quality of life possible by providing clean air and water. The millions of Americans who enjoy the great outdoors also know that wild rivers and forests bring a deep spiritual solace and connect us to a vividly living world.

People of faith, youth, parents, scientists, lawmakers and businesspeople, all of us who share this wondrous planet, are called to celebrate the 44th Earth Day. Let us honor our relationship with nature by committing to these practical steps to ensure that our children and theirs may celebrate Earth Day in perpetuity.


Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist at the Geos Institute in Ashland, is an award-winning author of “Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.” Camila Thorndike directs the Oregon Climate campaign for a state carbon fee and dividend, and she volunteers with the Citizen Climate Lobby. Jim Furnish, a consulting forester, was formerly Deputy Chief of the Forest Service and Supervisor of the Siuslaw National Forest.


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