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Geos Institute helps communities build resilience in the face of climate change

Sounding the alarm on Earth Day

originally published April 21, 2019 at OregonLive

By Dominick A. DellaSala, William J. Ripple and Franz Baumann

Another Earth Day is here and it’s time to check on the planet, our climate, and what it means for Oregonians. While we remain hopeful that climate change is solvable if we act now, it’s hard not to be alarmed.

For decades, scientists have been monitoring the planet’s life-support systems like the warning lights on a car’s dashboard. We scan satellite images of humanity’s unprecedented ecological footprint on forests, rivers, and oceans. We use thousands of weather stations to track rising temperatures and super-computers to forecast impacts.

In 1992, we joined 1,700 scientists in issuing a warning that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided.” In 2017, more than 21,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a second warning that conditions had worsened and time was running out.

In Oregon, rising temperatures means more extreme fire-weather – hotter, drier, windier. Smoke now pours into the state from fires as far away as British Columbia. Winters deliver more rain, less snow, and intense storms damage coastal communities.

Fortunately, forward-thinking members of Congress recently introduced a bold resolution that responds to the climate challenge at scale. Aptly named a Green New Deal, it is as ambitious as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

By calling for carbon-free energy, clean air and water, and an economic system that addresses inequalities, it is the most comprehensive response yet to the warnings. Hundreds of cities, including Portland, are supporting these initiatives via the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

The sense of urgency means the Oregon Legislature needs to do its part by passing a strong Clean Energy Jobs Bill that curbs greenhouse gas emissions now with a fair, equitable, and effective carbon pricing scheme that enlists nature in climate solutions.

Our coastal rainforests and older forests are vital to a safe climate as they scrub vast quantities of carbon from the atmosphere, helping to keep the planet from overheating. Lawmakers need to include measures that protect these forests and increase the time between logging cycles to grow and store more carbon in forests. Landowners practicing such climate-smart forestry should be rewarded.

Meanwhile, communities need to prepare for unavoidable consequences of carbon pollution. For much of Oregon, this means avoiding the tragedy of Paradise where entire homes were destroyed while surrounding trees were left unscorched. No amount of logging in the surroundings could have prevented unprepared homes ignited by embers blown from fires miles away. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s Wildfire Council needs to focus on proven home-hardening measures like building with fire-resistant roofs and thinning flammable vegetation around homes while avoiding Trojan-horse promises that claim intensive logging and more fire suppression will reduce or stop wildfires. Containing housing sprawl, enforcing clean air standards, providing smoke shelters and indoor air filtration systems are climate-smart responses.

The Green New Deal and Clean Energy Jobs Bill are the best ways to celebrate Earth Day with practical solutions to the scientists’ warnings.

DellaSala is chief scientist of the Geos Institute and a member of the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s Task Force on Forest Carbon. William J. Ripple is distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University and lead author of the 2017 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. Baumann, is former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, and a visiting research professor at New York University.

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