There’s some good news in the realm of global warming, climate change and the devastation it brings, said Bill Bradbury, a former state senator and representative for the South Coast of Oregon, at a presentation in Brookings Wednesday evening.
He began his presentation, which he has updated every year since he was trained by former Presidential candidate Al Gore in 2006, with graphs and time-progression bubbles and photos and videos. They depicted megafires, hurricanes, drought, acidic ocean water and many other environmental, societal and economic disasters facing the world now as average temperatures around the globe increase.
“In the past, we made projections about what would happen,” he said of his previous presentations. “The change has been dramatic in just the last 12 years. Right now, Hurricane Michael is hitting Florida as the strongest hurricane to ever strike the Panhandle. Two major hurricanes in one month? It’s remarkable.”
But hope has turned to action, he said.
First, the bad news
The Pacific Northwest isn’t exempt from the disasters — and is, in fact, disproportionately affected by the climatic changes when its own carbon emissions are factored in, Bradbury said.
Most greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane are the biggest perpetrators of global warming, scientists agree — created worldwide continue to be created by coal plans. In Oregon, however, it’s vehicles and animals — and most recently, massive forest fires.
The Chetco Bar megafire burned almost 200,000 acres of forest here last summer; the Klondike Fire stands at more than 167,000 acres today. Iconic glaciers on Mount Hood are melting. Snow is falling as rain, resulting in giant mud- and rock slides in the spring and ephemeral streams in the summers.
The Columbia River was so warm in 2015, half of the 1 million returning salmon died on the banks — those were this year’s fish catch. Oysters in Washington are developing warped and thin shells as a result of ocean acidification. Warm water in California streams is killing young salmon, affecting fishery economies to the north.
A dead zone between Cascade Head north of Lincoln City to just south of Florence grows in size every summer, Oregon State University scientists have recently discovered. A vibrant fish life there even a few years ago is now a barren landscape due to a lack of oxygen in the water, Bradbury showed in videos he shot over the years.
Climate refugees — people moving to escape the heat of the South and Southwest — are showing up in the Pacific Northwest, which scientists have said will be one of the few more-resilient areas in the world for people to survive.
One was in the audience; he said moved here from his home in the Sierra Nevadas because the winters there no longer get cold enough to kill the pine beetles that kill the trees that in turn are ripe for fire.
The statistics are out there, and increasingly people who have denied that climate is changing and the world is getting warmer — regardless what’s to blame — are experiencing it first-hand and changing their minds, Bradbury said.
National politics, it would seem, aren’t making it any better — but. It ends up that the marketplace and state elected officials are tackling the issue themselves — and it’s working, he added.
Worse before better
About half his presentation — itself far different from ones he’s given in Brookings in the past — was spent outlining changes individuals and nations are making to combat the environmental devastation wreaked on the planet.
And it’s working, he said.
Because carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouse gases take years, if not decades to fade away, what humans are putting into the air today will still be around for awhile, Bradbury said.
By 2060, parts of low-lying downtown Coos Bay will be periodically inundated by high tides, as Miami Beach is regularly today. The Rogue Valley is anticipated to see a 15-degree dry-season temperature increase by 2080, resulting in rain falling in lieu of snow and more intense winter and spring storms and dry river beds in the summers.
The Willamette Valley is forecast to see high-temperature increases of 6 to 8 degrees, to 94 degrees by 2080; it’s already forcing the pinot noir wine growers north to cooler climes.
Yet, people the world over are actually striving to change, he said.
“The question is, ‘Must we change?’” Bradbury said. “Can we? We have a lot of solutions at hand.”
Then, the question becomes, “Will we?”
It’s happening, and in surprising leaps and bounds, Bradbury said.
Everything individuals do helps, but it’s the projects on the grand scale — the enormous scale — that will turn the problem around, he said.
The growth of the wind power energy sector is already blowing predictions out of the water; in 2000, wind created 30 more gigawatts (GW) in the United States than in 2010, he said. Demand for alternative fuel — and the chance to make money making and delivering it — bumped that up by a factor of 16, six years later, he said.
“The use of wind went up, up, up,” Bradbury said. “And the cost went down, down, down.”
Solar power worldwide was hoped to grow by 1 GW by 2010, but panels captured 17 times more, and in 2017, it hit 98 GWs.
A solar-generated watt that cost $70.40 in 1976 now costs 32 cents, Bradbury said.
Solar panels are being slapped on everything from desert floors in Nevada to grass huts in Bangladesh.
“They figured out the sun shines for free, as long as you tap it,” Bradbury said, adding that China and India are well on their way to achieve the goals they set out for their respective countries in the Paris Climate Accord agreements.
Money in the sun
It didn’t take long for the markets to see it either, Bradbury said, noting that there are two times as many jobs in the solar industry than in the mining industry in the U.S. today. The Coal Mining Museum in Benham, Kentucky, now heats its 36,000-square-foot building using solar arrays — and saves $8,000 to $10,000 a year in the process.
“Solar is growing 17 times faster than the overall economy,” Bradbury said. “There is enough energy emitted from the sun each hour to fill our needs for an entire year. Wall Street is looking at this as the cheapest form of new power.”
And while regulations meant to protect the environment are being cast aside in Washington, D.C., states are taking it upon themselves to do their share to comply and meet the goals set out in the climate agreements, Bradbury said. He also noted that the U.S. can’t formally withdraw from the Paris accord until the day after the presidential election in 2020.
“It looks like we’ll be able to meet our Paris agreement goals regardless of national events,” Bradbury said. “Wall Street says the price will dictate. Our system works by doing things in the most efficient way. This will happen regardless of what the president says.”
Again, he reminded those in attendance, it will still take a long time for the Earth to heal, and calatamous natural disasters will continue to barrage forests, oceans and water sources until it starts to improve.
“It’s a real challenge we all have, but it is something we can deal with,” he said. “We can do it. It’s not hopeless. It’s something we really can do.
“Use your voice,” Bradbury continued. “Use your vote. Make your choices like the world depends on it. Because the world depends on it.”