As the garage doors opened for outside seating among the popular bars and restaurants on Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene early this March, it was easy to look forward to biking, hiking, boating, fishing, and all the other great outdoor activities that draw so many people to the Inland Northwest and fuel the local tourist based economy. Winter already seemed like an afterthought as local ski resorts struggled to scrape together enough snow to stay open or just closed entirely. While the weather of this year does not in and of itself constitute a dire threat to the livelihoods and livability of the area, trends of warming and shifts in climate patterns will increasingly challenge the environment and economy that sustain the communities of the Inland Northwest.
Climate scientists, with the exception of a handful of well-funded and politically motivated deniers, agree that the earth’s climate is warming and becoming more unsettled. Changing ocean currents and atmospheric patterns fuel more powerful storms and create new weather patterns such as the polar vortex that has buried the Northeast in snow this winter. Though weather will remain fluid and harsh winters will still visit the Inland Northwest, climate science and the personal experiences of those who remember what winters were like at the beginning of the 20th century tell us the climate is changing. Nearly forgotten are the times when Model T’s drove across Lake Coeur d’Alene. Replacing these memories of a colder and snowier climate are predictions from regional climate scientists who envision winters such as this year as “the new normal”.
University of Idaho professor and climate scientist, Dr. John Abatzoglou along with colleagues from Oregon State University and University of Idaho, found an average increase of 2.2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) in 20 climate model studies of the Pacific Northwest for the time period of 2040-2069. While these studies are not exact predictions, the message is clear; we must prepare and plan for a warmer future.
Understanding and adapting to a warming and changing climate will bring many challenges to our communities and will require us to make important changes. We can no longer plunge headlong into the future without addressing the impacts our actions will have on generations to come. The climate and the ecosystems it sustains provide for us a way of life and the joy of living in such a beautiful area. I hope we can start the necessary discussion about how we wish to survive, prosper, and create a lasting bond to the land that will sustain our lives and provide for a sustainable future.
Submitted by Carl Segerstrom
Authors note: This is the first in a series of essays addressing climate change and how it will affect various aspects vital to the future of the Inland Northwest. I am eager to hear your thoughts, concerns, fears, and hopes to kindle a discussion about responding to and living with a changing climate. You can reach me at email@example.com.