2013 drought, wildfires call for action on climate change
Almost 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest body of water in the United States, a beautiful gem of Southern Oregon. Fed by overhead snow and rain, the lake is one of the cleanest and purest in the world. Gazing upon the breathtakingly bright blue waters of the lake is something you never forget.
But there is trouble in paradise. During the past 21 years, I have spent my summers living in Crater Lake National Park. Looking out my bedroom window, I noticed winters are becoming shorter, warmer and less snowy. It looks to me like it has been raining more and snowing less in the months of May, June, September, and October. This change in the weather has led me to become very worried about climate change.
The science confirms my observation. In 1931, rangers first began keeping track of the average annual snowfall at Crater Lake. Since then, the totals have been trending downward by decade from average of 614 inches in the 1930s to about 455 inches last decade. Even more alarming, this last winter, 2012-13, Crater Lake received about 355 inches.
Climate researchers expect the trend to continue. They predict the Pacific Northwest will experience even less snow and warmer temperatures in the decades to come.
Most snow that falls in the park eventually leaves the park to nourish the rivers of Southern Oregon and Northern California. Less snow falling in the park means less water is leaving the park to support Southern Oregon cities, ranches, farms, and wildlife downstream.
According to the National Weather Service, Southern Oregon is currently under a persistent drought that may last until the end of October, if not longer. This spring, the USDA designated Klamath, Lake, Harney and Malheur counties as drought disaster counties. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Klamath Basin experienced the second driest January-through-March on record.
This current drought is an alarm bell telling us that it is time for Oregonians and Americans to stand up and take action on climate change.
The National Academy of Sciences, NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the American Meteorological Society, and even the Catholic Church all say that climate change is real and caused by humans. Over 97% of climate scientists agree on this.
It's getting bad, but we can limit the damage if we choose.
Humans pump over 90 million tons of carbon dioxide a day into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, more than 33 billion tons each year. For over 150 years, scientists have known that CO2 traps the earth's heat. Since the industrial revolution, we've increased the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by over 40 percent.
Earth now has a "fever," and the global average surface temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.8 Celsius. The impact of climate change is felt worldwide by more extreme floods, heat waves, and droughts, like we are currently experiencing in Southern Oregon.
One of our leading climate scientists, retired NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, says the best way to reduce the threat of climate change is for Congress to quickly pass carbon fee and dividend legislation.
A national carbon fee would tax fossil fuels — oil, coal, and natural gas — as they are extracted from the ground or arrive in port. This tax would cause fossil fuels to become increasingly expensive. At the same time, non-polluting renewable energy — solar, wind, and geothermal— would become increasingly attractive investments because of their relatively cheaper cost. Revenue from the carbon fee would be used to give Americans an evenly distributed dividend check to offset rising energy costs associated with the fee.
The beauty of Crater Lake National Park and surrounding Southern Oregon, plus the current drought, should inspire us to do everything we can to the limit threat of climate change for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.
The best way to limit future droughts threatening our farms, cattle ranches, salmon fisheries, and drinking water supply is to take action on climate change. That action, a national fee on carbon with revenue returned to households, will only happen if local Southern Oregon citizens tell our members of Congress, such as Congressman Greg Walden and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, to make it so.
Brian Ettling is a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park. He writes this as a private citizen and a member of the Southern Oregon chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.