Dear Editor: State senators representing rural Oregonians walked off the job in June to prevent the state from addressing global warming. But effective action is overdue.

Rural Oregonians - and I am one, here six hours from Portland - stand on the front line of damage from climate change. We will suffer the worst from state inaction.

Red is the correct color to politically describe rural and southern Oregon, and it’s also the right color to symbolize the effects that a hotter climate is causing.  

Consider first the hazard of wildfire and the pall of smoke that southern Oregonians endure for months at a time.

Hotter, drier, windier summers have delivered fires that no one can control, and that make any prescription for forest management irrelevant.

Climate experts predict that global warming will further exacerbate incendiary conditions. Some elected officials are apoplectic about fire. Yet the same officials reject meaningful action to grapple with global warming, which is the principal cause of the heightened risks we face.

Not concerned about fire? Or perhaps you think we can cut down all the trees and somehow have the tangle of resulting volatile brush and incendiary thickets of young trees burn any cooler. Okay, then consider the rising ocean. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences project a worldwide sea-level rise of up to 6 feet within the lifespan of our children.

That - or even substantially less than that - will inundate real estate, estuaries needed for fisheries, and big portions of coastal towns, including all three here in Curry County.

We rural Oregonians are the people who will have to live with the effects of a rising ocean, saltwater intrusion of our drinking water, and landslides along 362 miles of U.S. Highway 101, not to mention ocean-view homes destined to fall into the sea.

Worse, the overload of atmospheric carbon sourced in fossil fuels triggers ocean acidification, spelling doom to crabs, clams and the whole food chain, destroying commercial and sport fisheries that drive rural economies such as ours.

Bad news, too, for freshwater fish: stream temperatures already climb to intolerable levels for salmon, steelhead, and trout - the foundation of our sport-fishing past-time and economy. Outbreaks of toxic warm-water algae foul our swimming holes and domestic supplies, and increasingly blanket the shorelines of the Chetco and our other rivers in summer.

Because global warming delivers less snow and more rain in western Oregon, floods will increase. This is important to rural Oregonians, because a lot of them live in flood zones or, if not, they depend on roads that will be made impassible when rivers rise.

Meanwhile, in eastern Oregon worsening droughts are predicted where water shortages already challenge farmers and ranchers trying to make a living while a harsher climate works against them.

Climate change favors forest pathogens and the invasion of exotic species, reducing timber productivity and making forests more flammable with nuisance plants like gorse. Drier, hotter summers make regeneration difficult, with prospects of whole forests becoming brushy chaparral instead - and it burns even hotter.

First in line here are our super-heated mountains east of Brookings.

To block Oregon Democrats’ bill addressing the climate crisis, Republican politicians used fear about unaffordable gasoline prices to win the support of rural residents, then walked off the job, leaving the Senate without a voting quorum.

But through two years’ worth of compromises, HB 2020 offered tax credits to offset gas prices for financially stressed people, exempted farm and forestry use, and prioritized multiple rural investments with money the program would generate (Oregon Cap-and-Trade—An Economic Impact Analysis).

All to no avail. In the end, the senators left us with no plan at all.

Without decisive action to curb global warming, the Oregon we know will be ruined. The world’s leading climate experts say we have a dozen years to turn the tide. No one - least of all elected officials - should be walking off the job.

Our elected legislators should join in effective solutions to a problem that affects us all and that undermines our environment, our jobs, our communities and our lives. Those who said “no” in June of this year owe us an approach that will work.   

 

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