Climate change in the San Juans

  • Tue Jun 17th, 2008 8:24pm
  • News

The issue of “Climate Change in the San Juans” was the subject of a lecture on April 5 at Benson Hall presented by Doug Myers, the chief scientist of People For Puget Sound. Climate change is hot news right now.

It is widely understood that, over the eons, climate undergoes wide, naturally occurring swings. What causes these global changes is less well understood, however, resulting in arguments both supporting and denying the strength of human influence. It cannot be denied that the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide and other so called greenhouse gases are increasing and have now reached levels unknown in human history and that these gases trap heat from otherwise escaping into space, thus serving to warm the earth’s surface. It also appears that greenhouse gas accumulation is trumping any other naturally occurring climate cooling influences resulting in global warming.

How will this impact where we live in a Puget Sound/Salish Sea influenced environment? Myers expects wetter winters and dryer summers, leading to an alteration of river and stream flows, more precipitation as rain and less as snow, and accelerated sea level rise due to glacial melting and the fact that warm water expands in volume. These changes will put pressures on fish, birds, and mammals and will result in loss of near shore and salt marsh habitat. The peak snowpack runoff will be lower but more broadly spread through the winter months. Changes in sea water chemistry is becoming a big worry worldwide as carbon dioxide will increase acidity, thus impairing shellfish from making their shells.

While these changes are likely, uncertainty as to their rate of change and their impact on local environment are difficult for political institutions to deal with, Myers said. Governments budget from two to four years while our industrial society’s influence on climate change and habitat destruction will extend for centuries. The electorate must be made aware of such long-range community concerns and seek to influence elected officials to be more sensitive to issues beyond the next budget cycle. This is one of the primary goals of People For Puget Sound, according to Meyers. They have been working for 17 years to clean, protect and restore Puget Sound and to educate its neighbors to get to know the shoreline habitats and see the issues for themselves.

Doug Pearson is an Eastsound resident.