When substantial threats become serious, alarm bells often ring. It's then time to remove our gloves, roll up our sleeves, and address the problem.
With 50 percent of U.S. counties declared disaster areas this summer because of droughts, severe weather and wildfires, and Arctic summer ice reaching its lowest recorded level, the bell should be ringing for everyone with eyes, ears and a mind open enough to understand. Even in the Rogue Valley, we have experienced remarkable temperatures and rain shortage.
When: 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 30
Where: Medford library, large public meeting room
Details: On the Web at
These conditions probably represent the early consequences of climate change; they will only multiply without action. Although the Rogue Valley suffers less than much of the nation, our future will likely be less sheltered. For discussions of the temperature, precipitation and other consequences of climate change locally, including discussion of what is happening here and what we can do, visit www.dailytidings.com/guestopinion and read the three-part series "Climate change in the Rogue Valley."
Globally, we have warmed 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. Greenhouse gases already released mean an equal further warming is expected even if we stop emissions today. Temperature-dependent plant growing zones have already been redrawn northward to account for changes. The range of future warming for our valley over the next century parallels global projections; it ranges from the 1.3 degree minimum up to 11 degrees (possibly 15 degrees in August) depending on the response of humanity to the problem (the number of humans on the planet and our fossil fuel use).
A further 1.3 degree increase to a total of 2.6 degrees might be tolerable for biological systems and manageable by humanity, though this is questionable. The high extreme of 11 degrees would totally disrupt the climatic balance of the planet. Our natural (terrestrial and oceanic) ecological systems, together with our fisheries, forests and agricultural systems, are dependent on climatic conditions for sustained health. They are threatened by the changes we are imposing upon them as we dump carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide for hundreds of thousands of years hovered around 275 parts per million. Since the 18th century our expanded use of fossil fuels has increased this to over 390 parts per million — already nearly a 50 percent increase.
It is not clear what these critical, natural, life-support systems can tolerate before we destroy them. The more conservative estimate of 350 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide is well below the current level. A temperature estimate established internationally, though politically, by the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference is a warming of 3.6 degrees above the recent past.
The limit of how much more carbon dioxide we can release into our atmosphere to prevent increase above this 3.6 degree warming is 565 gigatons. Unfortunately, the carbon dioxide in all known fossil fuel reserves is 2,795 gigatons — five times this "tolerable" level.
Fossil fuel corporations are committed to extracting and supplying us with this resource. Not concerned about the habitability of the planet for future generations, fossil fuel corporations are committed to extracting fossil fuels so long as their profits are enhanced.
A few years ago some corporations were diversifying into alternative energy, but no longer. Even as these companies compete to extract fossil fuels rendered accessible by the melting polar ice cap, they spread lies and disinformation persuading us that climate change is a hoax. Ignoring the 97 percent of practicing climate scientists who agree the planet is warming and human activities are responsible, the fossil fuel campaign claims there is scientific disagreement.
While many resist any proposal that taxes carbon, we must remember that, regardless of political affiliation, everyone who experiences droughts, wildfires, severe weather and heat waves generated from burning these fuels is already paying a tax; it's measured in suffering. The question is who should pay: those who profit from the pollution or those who suffer its consequences?
Alarm bells are deafening. If we care about future generations we cannot delay action. Individually and collectively we must reduce fossil fuel consumption. We must also ensure that elected officials from the president to county and city leaders recognize the problem and commit to taking whatever action is possible at their jurisdictional level to address it.
Many national and international problems confront us and future generations — from economic recessions to threats of terrorism, nuclear war and epidemics. But the threat of runaway climate change trumps all; with a compromised planet, future generations will not be able to worry about much else.
Failure to act quickly will likely push us over the tipping point where runaway processes take over and there is no turning back. We should not reward fossil fuel corporations with continued tax subsidies but support alternative clean energy; as close to the tipping point as we appear, continued inaction from Washington is unacceptable.
Further years of federal inaction and it's probably "game over" for future generations. Do we care enough about them to respond?
Alan Journet, a retired ecologist, lives in the Applegate Valley. He offers presentations on aspects of climate change and is one of a group of local residents establishing a grassroots Rogue Valley climate protection organization which holds it second meeting Oct. 30 in Medford. He can be reached at email@example.com.