Climate report says extreme weather events stress PNW communities, industries

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A federal report shows that more Pacific Northwesterners have adapted to climate change in recent years, but continuous investments are needed to make meaningful changes to the country’s climate crisis.

The fifth edition of the National Climate Assessment was released on Tuesday. The U.S. Congress mandates the report every five years to give Americans a full view of the effects of climate change, as well as future risks and responses to it.

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Around 500 authors from each U.S. state and territory contributed to the report. According to the overview, the state of climate change rings true for every region in the nation.

Since this report was last released in 2018, more residents have adjusted to environmental changes or done their own part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, researchers said human activity has been the long-term driver of climate change — and it will continue to be if the U.S. doesn’t take bolder steps to mitigate it.

One chapter of the assessment focuses on states in the Northwest region: Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

“Extreme heat, flooding, wildfires, and other climate hazards threaten human health, sense of place, ecosystems, infrastructure, and industries in the Northwest,” the report said of the PNW.

The researchers went on to list three communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change: people of color with low income in urban areas, residents in rural areas who are dependent on natural resources, and tribes and indigenous groups.

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According to the report, long-standing systemic oppression and a lack of resources make those communities more susceptible to environmental hazards.

The contributing authors said the only way to mitigate that is to include the communities in future climate solutions. Instead, they claimed officials in cities like Portland and Seattle overburden their residents who are already affected.

“As utilities transfer the costs related to extreme events and the transition to renewable energy directly to consumers, utility bills are expected to become unaffordable for low-income households,” experts wrote. “The rising cost of living, alongside socioeconomic disparities, limits temporary relief and long-term recovery options for those who are affected by climate-intensified extreme weather events, such as the 2021 heat dome event.”

They added that those extreme events and human activity will continue to affect the ecosystem, through noticeable changes like the endangerment or outbreak of native and non-native species.

Furthermore, researchers projected that climate change could have a negative effect on natural resource-dependent economies.

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According to the report, the PNW features 138.8 million acres of public and private croplands, pastures, forests, etc. An estimated $6.28 billion went toward the region’s agricultural economy in 2021 — but extreme climate-driven events could stress the industry and its workforce more going forward.

The assessment also claims climate change has hindered infrastructure systems like housing and transportation.

“Much of the Northwest’s transportation infrastructure, such as railroads, bridges, and highways, is aging and thereby increasing vulnerability to climate-related hazards. For example, the average age of all surveyed bridges in Oregon is 46 years old, and the typical design life is 75 years,” experts wrote.

Along with that, researchers determined that climate change worsens health inequities and inhibits a “sense of place” for Pacific Northwesterners who value proximity to nature.

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Despite this, emissions have dropped as the U.S. population has grown. Going forward, scientists urge residents to take “transformative climate actions” that address the root of environmental issues and improve conditions for the most at-risk communities.

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