Guest column: 2018 drought and smoke should push us to act on climate change

October 6, 2018
Guest column: 2018 drought and smoke should push us to act on climate change

On Sept. 24, The Bulletin posted this article: “Drought marks one of Central Oregon’s warmest summers.” The article reported: “(last) Saturday marked the formal transition to fall, officially ending one of the hottest and driest summers in Central Oregon history.”

It noted, “So far this year, 28 days reached 90 degrees or warmer, the second-highest total in the last two decades, according to data from the weather service.”

Even worse: “Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, said smoke from wildfires caused air to be unhealthy for sensitive groups on 12 different occasions during the summer, primarily during the middle and end of August.”

The smoke from this summer’s wildfires was troubling, especially at Crater Lake National Park.

On Sept. 15, The Bulletin reported that due to the hazardous smoke and poor visibility at Crater Lake: “visitation in July dropped more than 22 percent compared to the prior July, and visitation in August was down nearly 17 percent, according to the National Park Service.”

When folks cancel vacations due to smoke at Crater Lake, that has a bad impact on the economies of Southern Oregon communities that depends upon the tourism dollars, especially Klamath County.

It is one thing to stay home and avoid traveling to Southern and Central Oregon. Even worse is the long-term exposure to the smoky air that is most hazardous on the elderly, children and people who have breathing difficulties.

We all know that Oregon has always had wildfires, but climate change makes fire season worse.

Climate change is caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas and coal, globally and locally for our energy needs. The consumption of these dirty fuels is causing our winters to be shorter, warmer and less snowy.

What does that do for wildfire season? That causes wildfire season to be longer, hotter, dryer and more intense. Scientists tell us that the future will only get worse, especially for wildfires, if we keep burning fossil fuels. It does not have to be this way. We do have solutions to reduce the threat of climate change:

1. Ask U.S. Rep. Greg Walden to support Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s (CCL) market based solution, carbon fee and dividend.

It would put a fee on carbon pollution at the source, U.S. coal mines, oil wells, natural gas wells and imported fuels. The fee starts at $15 a ton of carbon pollution emitted and goes up each year by $10.

Within a decade, it would encourage investors to go “all in” to invest in clean energy, and it would reduce carbon pollution by over 50 percent in 20 years.

In the meantime, two-thirds of the American public, primarily low income and middle class, would have an income boost that would more than cover the increase in fuel costs. This would then really grow the American economy. It is estimated over 230,000 American lives would be saved over 20 years from switching from dirty to clean sources of energy.

2. Ask your Oregon legislators, such as Sen. Tim Knopp and the candidates running be the representative for District 54, Republican Cheri Helt, Democrat Nathan Boddie and Working Families Party Amanda La Bell, to support Renew Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill that will be voted on in the 2019 Oregon legislative session. Clean Energy Jobs is a policy to put a limit and price on climate pollution from the largest polluters in the state.

It will secure greenhouse gas reductions and reinvestment into communities across Oregon to create clean energy jobs and a thriving economy, especially in communities that need it most.

Supporting these two actions can reduce the threat of climate change and make our air quality better, especially visiting Crater Lake and enjoying Central Oregon during the summer.

— Brian Ettling was a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, 1992-2017.

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