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Originally published February 13, 2014 at 4:47 PM | Page modified February 13, 2014 at 5:08 PM

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Climate change: mitigation, adaptation

Climate change is here, it is happening, and it is the future. Lots can still be done to mitigate the changes, but policy is moving to adapt to impacts.


Times editorial columnist

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Discussions around climate change are on a pragmatic new course. Enough of the talk-show bilge about “is it real?”

The shift I am hearing is not only about mitigating climate change, but also promoting smart adaptation to the impacts already here — and here to stay.

Scientific energy and insight are pointing the discussion toward what can be done to lessen the economic, political and social impacts ahead.

The effort under way is to communicate information to local governments, businesses, farmers and others with long-term, weather-dependent investments to make.

Working to mitigate climate change is still vital, and very much in progress.

All the challenges of greenhouse gases, ocean rise and acidification are caught up in the sweeping environmental review announced this week for a proposed coal terminal in Cowlitz County. The Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview could annually ship 44 million tons of Powder River coal to China.

All of the trains rolling across Washington from the Wyoming and Montana coal basin, dramatic vessel traffic and the daily operations on the 130-acre terminal site are going to get a close review by county officials and the state Department of Ecology.

Everything from the endless coal trains through Spokane and other cities, to the consequences of the end use of the coal on Washington will get a look.

Not compounding climate change is huge, but so is the growing recognition of what is happening now, and its growing intensity over the next half-century, and beyond.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Lisa Graumlich, dean of the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, recently hosted a Seattle round-table on the effects of climate change in the Pacific Northwest.

UW and government scientists, national park managers, tribal leaders and all manner of experts shared their stories about where research says we are heading and what is happening now.

Amy Snover, director of UW’s Climate Impact Group, shared a 12-page peer-reviewed summary she and other authors had compiled on climate change impacts and adaptation in Washington.

All scenarios project warming for the 21st century, the study notes. The combined forecast is for higher average annual temperatures, heavier rainfall, declining snowpacks and an elevated sea level for the state.

Washington can expect more heat waves and more severe heavy rainfall events. Climate change impacts into the 21st century mean trouble for water resources, forests, species and ecosystems, oceans and coasts, infrastructure, agriculture and human health.

Forests will suffer increased wildfires, insect outbreaks and diseases. Climate change and variable water regimens, with declining snowpacks, will impact crops, livestock and fish species, and hydropower generation.

The 100-year flood could be an annual event. Local governments have to think about what it means for roads, bridges, storm drains and other civic infrastructure.

The good news is elected officials, such as King County Executive Dow Constantine, who attended the UW session, are paying attention. He made climate policy a central theme of his 2014 State of the County address.

The City of Seattle has an Office of Sustainability & Environment. Director Jill Simmons, also part of the UW round-table, later explained how the city is in the midst of a vulnerability assessment. Her department, Seattle Public Utilities, and others are collaborating on studies to determine what climate changes mean for land-use decisions and the siting of future public infrastructure investments.

Getting the word out is key. Beatrice Van Horne directs the Northwest Regional Climate Hub, which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

The Hub, located in Corvallis, is one of seven regional U.S. Department of Agriculture climate centers.

In a telephone interview, Van Horne said the effort is to provide practical climate information to farmers, ranchers, forest landowners and tribes — help adapting to climate change in the face of severe weather events and new conditions.

From city streets to forests and agricultural lands, information is basic to making good decisions.

Climate change is real. Not a philosophical argument or ideological debate.

Lance Dickie’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is ldickie@seattletimes.com




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