Climate Change & Okanogan County

If you’re reading this and live in Okanogan County, I’m asking a favor of you. Take a moment to answer honestly whether you or someone you know hasn’t been affected by wildfires or their aftermath at some point over the last few years. My guess is that very few could reply they, or a friend or relative, haven’t.

Look around. Trust your eyes and your memory. Since 2014, many thousands of acres of shrub-step, forest, and rangeland have burned in our county, with hundreds of homes and outbuildings lost. This, of course, includes the Carlton Complex Fire, the largest wildfire ever recorded in our state’s history.

Whole towns, cities and valleys have been caught up in mass evacuations. Herds of livestock have been written off and compromised soils have caused massive landslides, cutting off major highways and sweeping away residences. Smoke emanating from local fires combined with those from Canada has given birth to what some have begun calling a fifth season, resulting in reductions in crop yields, loss of tourism dollars, and some of the worst air quality in the world. Tragically, the lives of several firefighters were also sacrificed.

If nothing else, Okanogan residents are resilient. Recovery efforts have been slow but steady and our emergency responses upgraded. And yet the threat expands with each passing year. As we approach the official start of winter in late 2018—and a welcomed pause in fire season—it’s an appropriate time to ask just what is going on. As if on cue, an incredibly detailed publication that goes a long way towards answering many of the important climate questions was just released late last month, on a busy holiday weekend. The latest 1,656-page National Climate Assessment (NCA)—a report conducted every four years—was issued by the Trump administration on Black Friday, in a cynical attempt to bury its findings from the collective conscience of the nation.

This is far from a run of the mill report. The exhaustive assessment was endorsed by 13 federal agencies including NASA, and NOAA. Other endorsees include the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Energy, Interior, as well as the State Department, the EPA, and the National Science Foundation. Some of the brightest minds in the country contributed, with more than 300 eminent scientists detailing years’ worth of facts and conclusions about our climate. Together, they paint a clear and alarming picture: changes in the earth’s climate are already dramatically affecting Americans, and it’s only going to get worse.

Our current President may try to deny and hide the truth while unilaterally withdrawing from international climate pacts, but his own scientists and experts have made it as stark and clear as possible: greenhouse gasses are compounding at an alarming rate and global average temperatures are rising. Observe the world around you; unfortunately the evidence is often probably right out your front door or visible on your way to work. Yet our President and the party he heads refuse to even acknowledge what most of us can sense as they kowtow to the fossil fuel industry, a dwindling number of climate change deniers, and a poorly informed base.

Whether we care to admit it or not, Okanogan County is ground zero for a number of deleterious effects of global warming. Examined through a political lens, when compared to those of the other major party, responses by our elected state and federal Democrats could not be in sharper contrast. Elected Democrats appear fully committed to follow the research, acknowledge best practices and make hard choices as they reestablish priorities. Republicans, by in large, seem only capable of clinging to failed ideologies and a regrettable distrust of science.

I encourage anyone reading this to educate themselves about the issues surrounding global warming and climate change. I think you’ll find study after study supports the conclusions of the NCA and, no, none of it is fake science. I sincerely hope more and more Okanogan County citizens find compelling reasons to vote for local, state, and federal Democrats and help them take the lead in developing solutions and strategies to slow global warming before it’s too late. Through our elections, the choice of whether or not to fight for a legacy that protects future generations becomes yours. And it turns out this is not a test…


Jim Brennan

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