Building a climate resilient community | Guest Column

by GRETCHEN ALLISON

A community discussion on climate adaptation strategies was held last week at the San Juan Island Grange in Friday Harbor. Setting the stage was an excellent lecture series held at Brickworks in 2014 on the science of the changing climate, followed this spring by the showing of the award-winning film series “Years of Living Dangerously,” held at the Grange, and more lectures since then.

One hundred and fifteen people attended this first community brainstorming session put on by Islands Climate Resilience, a group based on San Juan, and included many folks from other islands including the groups Thrive!Orcas and Transition Lopez, both of which work on sustainability and climate issues. Shaw was represented and there was 100 percent attendance from Yellow Island. (Thanks, Phil!) Also attending were many scientists, land and systems managers, farmers, National Parks and county employees, business owners and educators.

The goal was to help each other understand and identify the various changes forecast specifically for the islands, identify where the gaps exist in understanding or preparedness, and discuss what creative and flexible strategies we might adopt to smooth the ride we are in for. Water supply and fire danger were the topics of the most immediate concern. Also covered were health, changing terrestrial and marine ecosystems, shifts in species, ocean acidification, rising sea level, erosion, migration from the south, infrastructure, food production and distribution. It was a lot to cover in an evening, and plans for more discussion groups are in the works.

Community awareness about climate change and a desire to take action seems like it’s reaching critical mass in this region. Many groups and individuals are organizing to figure out what they can do to prepare for the coming changes as well as ways to cut carbon emissions locally, nationally and globally. The largest goal, of course, is keeping future disruption of our climate as small as possible by switching away from burning fossil fuel and turning toward renewable energy.

Almost all of us use and depend on fossil fuel. It’s the system we were born into, and we don’t have much choice but to participate in the system, even though we can plainly see that the endpoint is somewhere we don’t want to go.

The energy system ultimately has to change from the top down, but since that hasn’t happened yet we have to go at it from the bottom and hope they catch up to us.

More events are being planned locally to continue the discussion and hear from more experts in climate change and climate solutions.

On Sept. 10 Nicholas Bond, Washington State’s Climatologist, will be coming to San Juan Island to give us an update on current climate science. On Oct. 23, Dr. Daniel Kammen will be speaking at Brickworks on Decarbonizing our Energy Systems.

Gretchen Allison lives on San Juan Island.