Stride: On climate change and western Oregon
In October, November and December of 2019, there were three lectures on climate change held at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. The principal investigator, Steve Engel, who is nature program supervisor there, delivered these talks to the public.
I was first introduced to climate change as a physics student at Oregon State University over 30 years ago. As I recall, it seemed that climate change would evolve so slowly that it would hardly be noticeable in my lifetime. I could not have been more wrong.
As a boy growing up in western Oregon in the mid-1970s, I witnessed a much cooler and damper climate than we have now. There were days and nights of soaking rains interspersed all through the fall, winter, spring and early summer. As my family and I recall, we could count on half the days of June being overcast with rain most of the day. The only dry months back then were July, August and early September. Then came the winter rains.
Now, from April to October, we have what is called a Mediterranean climate. That means hot weather with virtually no rain for over six months. This has been going on for several years now, and the question is, will the trend reverse? For these past five years, we have been down on annual rainfall, and how will that affect us?
As with any complex system like climate change, unforeseen secondary phenomena can develop without warning, and this is just what makes climate change so confusing for those trying to understand the problem.
The polar ice caps, Iceland and Greenland are melting far faster than anyone had anticipated 30 years ago. Crop failure at the equator is happening more than we thought it would, and the American South is getting hotter and hotter with no signs of abatement.
Our summertime climate is more and more resembling that of middle or northern California. Those beautiful blue summer skies are nice, but in western Oregon, we need a certain amount of rain to have an ecosystem normal for western Oregon.
The water quality in our rivers and streams is affected by climate change. Warmer water has less oxygen and more bacteria, and the fisheries are hurt. Warmer water will negatively affect our salmon runs, which play such an integral role in our ecosystem.
Crop failure is another possible climate change scenario, and that is happening in other parts of the world. It is especially bad at the equator in countries like Costa Rica, where the coffee crops are in jeopardy. Increased irrigation can counterbalance that, but it could overload the rivers and creeks.
Forest fires are more likely, and they will be bigger and more destructive than before, when we had a cooler and damper climate. Presently, there are runaway forest fires in Australia where the forests and undergrowth have been dried by the sun and ignited accidently.
The last McDonald's restaurant built in Hillsboro, Oregon, has several palm trees planted on its property. This manmade oasis is made possible by the effects of climate change.
Many people in the media are addressing the climate change problem in books and articles. My aim here is to summarize the content of the three lectures delivered at Jackson Bottom. When I attended these lectures, it was a nice way to pass the evening and was time well spent.
William Stride is a published author and outdoor enthusiast. He lives in North Plains.
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