Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Biggest Climate Changes Hitting the Pacific Northwest and What You Can Do About It

Popular
Biggest Climate Changes Hitting the Pacific Northwest and What You Can Do About It

Where else in the U.S. but the Pacific Northwest can you visit one of most charming cities in the world, explore beautiful snowcapped mountains and spend an afternoon relaxing on the beach—all in the same day?


Known for its extraordinary natural beauty and fiercely independent characters, the region is now making headlines for a different reason altogether. Namely, the many ways a warming climate is transforming the environment.

With our next Climate Reality Leadership Corps activist training taking place in Washington State this June, we're highlighting some of the biggest changes hitting the Pacific Northwest because of the climate crisis and what regular citizens can do to make a difference, wherever they call home.

Threatened Water Sources

If there's one thing the Northwest is known for—even more than coffee and Twin Peaks—it's water. Specifically, rain and in higher elevations, snow. But with the climate changing and temperatures rising, the snow on those white-capped mountains is melting quicker and sooner than ever before, with the potential to alter the water cycle throughout the region.

With warmer days, snowpack in the Cascade Mountains, which range from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Northern California, has decreased by about 20 percent since around 1950. In some areas, snow-melts are now beginning up to 30 days earlier than normal, which affects the timing of when and how streams flow—and can increase competition for water downstream.

The effects spill throughout the region. With less water running down mountain streams in summers, scientists expect less water will become available to power the region's hydroelectric dams. And because the Northwest generates 40 percent of the nation's hydropower, there could be real economic consequences in the region and beyond.

The image above shows the projected changes in water runoff and streamflow for 2040, as compared to 1915–2006.

Increased Sea Level Rise

One of the most severe threats to the Pacific Northwest is the danger of seas rising up the Oregon and Washington coasts. Scientists predict global sea levels may rise between 1.6 and 3 feet by the end of the century, putting Seattle, and many other cities, at risk of developing new and unwanted beachfront properties.

It's not just the places right on the beach at risk either. About 140,000 acres of the coastal region are within 3.3 feet of high tide. Low-lying areas, including Puget Sound, are at especially great risk to rising sea levels and storm surge. Flooding and erosion from sea-level rise are likely to damage homes, highways, public transportation systems and threaten marine life and coastal ecosystems.

The image above shows areas in Seattle that are projected to fall below sea level during high tide by 2100. The map shows three different levels based on medium and high projections, as well as a higher projection that includes storm surge.

Record-Breaking Wildfires

Forests, which make up nearly 50 percent of the Northwest landscape, have experienced a surge in wildfires in recent years partly due to the climate crisis. Oregon and Washington had their most severe wildfire season in 2015 when more than 3,800 fires burned more than 1,600,000 acres.

Why the jump in wildfires that year? The first six months of 2015 were the warmest Oregon and Washington witnessed since record keeping began. There was also less precipitation, which led to poor snowpack and reduced streamflow throughout the winter and spring seasons. These dry changes made it more likely for forests to catch fire when lightning struck—which it did, 51,019 times between June 1 and September 15, 2015.

This map displays the projected increase in forests area burned from a 2.2-degree Fahrenheit warming in average temperature.

What You Can Do

If the Pacific Northwest is going to meet the challenge of the climate crisis, citizens, business leaders, communities and local and federal governments will need to work together to cut emissions and accelerate the shift to clean energy.

Are you ready to do your part? This June, we'll be holding our next Climate Reality Leadership Corps activist training in Bellevue, Washington and there's a place for you.

Whether you live in the Pacific Northwest or anywhere else, apply and you could work with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and renowned climate scientists and communicators to learn about what's happening to our planet and how you can use digital tools, powerful storytelling and personal outreach to build real momentum for solutions and inspire communities to act.

We don't have time to waste. With the crisis transforming our planet more and more every day, we've got to fight like our world depends on it. Apply now to join us in Washington and make a difference when it matters.

Plastic bails, left, and aluminum bails, right, are photographed at the Green Waste material recovery facility on Thursday, March 28, 2019, in San Jose, California. Aric Crabb / Digital First Media / Bay Area News via Getty Images

By Courtney Lindwall

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
Trending
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less