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Climate threat is real; Oregon is a leader

Since I retired a year ago, I have been blessed to have had both the health and means to travel over large expanses of our earth. What I saw was quite disturbing: glaciers rapidly retreating less than a thousand miles from the North Pole, and large expanses of ocean near northern Greenland devoid of ice.

I saw vast areas of thawed permafrost that had turned into thick muck. I heard reports of polar bears dying for lack of food in the Arctic, a decline in Pacific fish stocks near Fiji, and the submergence of inhabited atolls in the South Pacific.

Our valley has not been immune to climate change. Last summer, we had the hottest June on record, with temperatures a full 8 degrees above the historical average. Should the trends continue, some scientists warn that by 2080, the Rogue Valley will have Sacramento-like summers, with average temperature 7 to 15 degrees hotter than we now experience. Snowpacks will decline and streams and lakes will dry up. In addition, catastrophic fires will become commonplace, filling our valley’s air with smoke.

With the smoke, we risk losing the health gains we have made over the past few decades, when we reduced particulates by replacing old woodstoves with cleaner models, reduced emissions from cars through inspections and improved the industrial emissions from our mills. Our most vulnerable citizens, children with asthma and seniors with coronary artery disease or COPD, will suffer.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, there is a real danger that melting of Arctic permafrost will release vast stores of methane into the atmosphere, pushing global warming to a tipping point where human intervention would no longer be possible.

Yet all is not gloom and doom. There still is time to slow down, then reverse, the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. By doing so, we may still be able to prevent the feared “tipping point”.

Oregon is a leader in efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown signed the Clean Energy and Coal Transition Act. The act will do much to replace coal-fired power plants in the Northwest with renewable energy sources.

The bill gives us hope that we may be able to leave our children and grandchildren a world with a less volatile climate. It also shows us that compromise for the common good is still possible, where utilities once resistant to phasing out coal can join environmentalists, business leaders and community members to come together toward a common vision.

Oregonians have once again demonstrated the resilience of our democratic process. It is now up to elected officials in Washington to follow our example.

Dave Gilmour of Central Point is a retired physician and a former Jackson County commissioner.