Language matters. “Global warming” sounds oddly appealing on a wet-cold November morning. Scientists re-noodled the terminology and came up with the unalarming but freighted-with-God-knows-what “climate change.”
Today climate change is no longer a worst-case abstraction peddled by eco-downers. It’s a real-time phenomenon, with nasty, often unpredictable effects.
Say, for example, on birds.
On Monday, the National Audubon Society issued its “Birds and Climate” report. The takeaway: More than half of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied (yes, it includes the bald eagle) will lose “50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.” Lose your climate range and lose your birds. Silent spring, summer and fall.
Extreme weather, along with increased precipitation in the Pacific Northwest, is consistent with the UW’s Climate Impacts Group’s climate modeling. The Pacific Northwest Climate Science conference at the UW today, featuring a keynote address by Gov. Jay Inslee, is likely to emphasize the same currents, with inharmonious chatter on the Audubon report.
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 in cities such as Everett as extreme rainstorms become commonplace) as well as reducing greenhouse emissions.
Earlier this year 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, preparations need to begin now. That means incorporating the crush from climate change into their comprehensive plans.
Ultimately, humans own this. As last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
Back to language and all-thing tangible: Most of us begin to snooze with talk of “infrastructure” improvements and climate modeling. But birds? From Coast Salish cultures to retired couples in Edmonds, birds are venerated, a force greater than themselves. Beware messing with the transcendent. People pay attention, get mad and act.