Local scientists want people to renew focus on climate change

Local scientists and the Ashland Conservation Commission hope to rekindle interest in global warming and what residents can do to conserve natural resources during a Climate Reality Project on Wednesday.

The series of presentations will be given from 5 to 8 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., Ashland.

If you go

What: Climate Reality Project

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14

Where: Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., Ashland

Admission: Free

Sponsored by the commission, the free event will feature live webcam presentations on sustainability from experts in Boulder, Colo., and Victoria, British Columbia, sustainable business presentations, exhibits from ScienceWorks geared to all ages, tips on how to take local action, a primer on city energy and water rebates and incentives, complimentary finger food from local restaurants, and no-host wine and beer.

The issue of climate change may have been displaced by other crises and personal hardship during the recession, scientists say, but greenhouse gases continue to climb at an alarming rate. Levels of carbon dioxide, for example, are now at 392 parts per million, compared to 280 ppm at the end of the 19th century before industry turned to the burning of fossil fuels, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A climate model of the Rogue Valley shows a temperature increase of 1 to 3 degrees by 2040, which scientists believe would decrease snowpack up to 75 percent — meaning severe consequences for agriculture, stream flow, wildfires and salmon viability, says presenter Pepper Trail, an ornithologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Forensic Laboratory in Ashland.

"Even if it turns out to be only 50 or 25 percent (reduction), the impacts will be very significant," Trail said. "Almost all the data shows worse than that and assumes we're taking steps to lower carbon emissions, but we're doing nothing. There is no concerted U.S. government action on climate change."

Jim McGinnis, a member of the Ashland Conservation Commission and a climate change specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, said the nation's increasing gross national product and consumption cannot be sustained in the long term.

"The standard of living must level off," said McGinnis, a lecturer with Al Gore's Climate Reality Project. "This country consumes five Earths, while India consumes one-tenth of an Earth." An "Earth," he explained, is the level of human consumption that can be sustained by a population year-to-year.

Trail said though the "broken political process" in the U.S. sometimes prevents constructive dialogue and solutions, he believes progress is being made locally. The city of Ashland has adopted and is encouraging programs for energy conservation, and residents throughout Jackson County are buying more goods from local farmers and businesses, working toward "community resiliency" in the valley.

Noting he is puzzled about the decline in public interest around climate change, Trail said, "It's become polarized. People are turned off by politics and they say, 'How does this affect me?' Opponents have a tactic we call 'teach the controversy,' " which he said means focusing on the fact there are many disputed theories, with no certain truth.

"The fact is, people don't want to change their lives," he said. "'If there's uncertainty, then maybe it's not as bad as they say, so let's defer on it — and if the problem is immense, then does it make any difference what I do?' So, that's why local efforts are the most empowering."

Noting the concept of "triple bottom line," or people's common need for "people-planet-profit," and the strong points of each community in the valley, McGinnis added, "We're all in this together."

More information is available at http://sites.google.com/site/climatechangeso/.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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