Planning for climate impacts

Northwesterners take solace in reports that the West Antarctic ice sheet is “collapsing.” The apocalyptic news comes courtesy of University of Washington glaciologist Ian Joughin and his UW co-author Benjamin Smith. Political pandemonium will track with rising sea levels, true. But at least we can gurgle “I told you so” with Husky pride.

Observers underscore that “collapse” is a loaded description for a process that will take years, if not decades. That’s why the takeaway needs to be deliberative action, not panic.

“If we plan and act, we can adapt to rising seas, but we will need to build coastal defenses like levees and barriers, restore protective wetlands, or even move away from low-lying coasts if needed,” writes National Geographic’s Dennis Dimick.

Climate change is no longer a worst-case abstraction peddled by eco-downers. It’s a real-time phenomenon, with nasty, often unpredictable effects.

Extreme weather, along with increased precipitation in the Pacific Northwest, is consistent with the UW’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: preparing for rising sea levels and replacing combined-sewer overflows as extreme rainstorms become commonplace) as well as reducing greenhouse emissions.

On Tuesday the Center for Naval Analyses issued a sobering report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” which documents the socio-political fallout. “Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States,” it reads.

For cities such as Everett, preparations need to begin now. That means incorporating the impacts of climate change into the city’s comprehensive plan. Question one for the candidates in Everett’s sole city council race this year: What specifically do you propose to minimize climate impacts?

Ultimately, humans own this, and humans need to manage and curtail the fallout. As last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 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.”

Snohomish County prides itself on innovation. Pair entrepreneurial smarts with political courage and we just might be OK, collapsing ice sheets or no.