Climate change is no longer a worst-case abstraction peddled by eco-downers. It’s a real-time phenomenon, with nasty, often unpredictable impacts.
Exhibit one is not a sky-is-falling lament but a sewage-is-upwelling roar.
Residents of north Everett, freighted with a combined-sewer overflow system, were slammed by a once-a-century rain dump on Aug. 29. That late-summer anomaly was quickly followed by a once-a-half century deluge Sept. 5. Once a century is turning into once a month.
Toilets belched, basements flooded. The emblematic casualty was the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Cross, with $175,000 in damages to its Lombard Avenue office.
Extreme weather, along with increased precipitation in the Pacific Northwest, is consistent with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group’s climate modeling. A rise in sea levels, ocean acidification, a doubling of wildfires, the loss of cold-water salmon habitat. It’s a crisis that merits a two-pronged response: Aligning local infrastructure to accommodate changing conditions (read: replacing combined-sewer overflows as extreme rainstorms become commonplace) and reducing greenhouse emissions.
On Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the summary of its fifth assessment report, and it wasn’t pretty.
“Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time,” Thomas Stocker, the panel’s co-chair, told the New York Times. Yes, the international community should agree to a “carbon budget” that limits carbon dioxide emissions, as recommended by the report.(Random wake-up fact: The level of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hasn’t been this high in more than 800,000 years.)
To battle climate change and rebuild America’s infrastructure, the prudent strategy is what writer Thomas Friedman terms a “radical center” solution. A phased-in carbon tax could raise a trillion dollars over 10 years while curtailing carbon emissions. A carbon tax of $20 a ton is a radically sensible brainstorm.
Ultimately, humans own this, and humans need to manage and curtail the fallout. As the report states, “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
The best local climate-change laboratory is North Cascades National Park. Earlier snow melt, receding glaciers. As temperatures rise, park biologists track pikas, a heat-sensitive mammal, as they migrate to cooler alpine environments.
The park, of course, will be just fine. It’s the folks downstream — all of us — that we need to worry about.