As the wildfires keep ravaging through Oregon state, over half a million people have been evacuated or informed of impending evacuation. The reality of the devastation that climate change leaves behind has never been so clear. Yet, the fight to have climate change legislation has been a frustration for Kate Brown, the state Governor.

Last year, the Republican lawmakers disappeared in efforts to frustrate climate change legislation efforts. Even after months of making changes to the initial proposals to appease critics, the GOP legislators still refused to come on board. The governor decided to use her executive powers to sign an order that would establish the same greenhouse gas emission reduction goals the proposed legislation sought to achieve.

A section of the first page of Oregon Governor Kate Brown's Climate Change executive action. She signed the order on March 10, 2020.

Unfortunately, the governor has no legal authority to set up a carbon emissions trading system and economy-wide cap that the legislation would have established. Instead, she ordered state agencies to make emission reduction considerations top priority and to leverage the regulatory tools they have to push for carbon reduction. The bill had sought to achieve an 80% reduction of the state’s carbon emissions below the 1990 levels by 2050.

A similar proposal had been fronted in 2019. It was marred by political and cultural disagreements that blocked the efforts to address climate change. One of the reasons why some groups shot the bill down is because they termed it as too aggressive and expensive for industries that release greenhouse gasses.

The Oregon Governor's official office

A section of loggers expressed fears that fuel prices would go up once the cap and trade bill passes. The worries follow the decision of the fossil fuel companies to offload costs to consumers.

Republican senators walked out of the Oregon State Capitol to doom the climate bill. In 2019, similar no-quorum feats were witnessed as threats to involve the police to force the lawmakers back to the house were issued. These walkouts derailed the state’s legislation against climate change. Despite several attempts to have the senators vote on the bill, it still flopped.

To honor her pledge, the Governor signed a cap-and-reduce executive order instead. The signed order comes as an improvement of the 2019 proposed bill. It seeks to include more industry players in the fight against climate change. This newly signed bill has been followed by $5 million in funding to spearhead the Department of Environment Quality posts’ launch.

Effects of Climate Change in Oregon

According to the UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists), the Pacific Northwest has warmed up by 1.50F since the beginning of the 20th century. The warmer climate resulted in wildfires, early snowmelt, declining mountain snowpacks, and ocean acidification leading to sea life devastation.

Over half a million people have either been evacuated or informed of impending evacuation following the wildfires ravaging through Oregon state.

In 2018 alone, the cost of putting out wildfires in Oregon was a record-breaking $514 million. This was higher than the 2017 figure of $447 million. The state’s residents have also been counting their costs, with more than 132,000 homes being at high or extreme risk of wildfire damage. This has taken a toll on the real estate business.

The warmer and drier conditions haven’t spared the forests. In addition to wildfires, Oregon forests are now witnessing an outbreak of pests and tree diseases.

The high precipitation rates due to the higher temperatures have adversely affected Northwest's water resources. Mountain snow accumulation in the winter forms a natural water storage system. This is the natural storage that Oregon relies on during the summer months. It is especially critical for agriculture.

Climate change is increasing the risk of larger, more intense wildfires. Warmer and drier conditions allow wildfires to spread faster and farther, creating dangerous conditions for residents and emergency services.

With the warmer temperatures, the mountain snowpacks are melting up to 30 days earlier than in the mid-20th century. This melting reduces the streams that feed the snow-fed rivers in the summer. Lower river volumes result in less water in the hotter months of the year despite high demand.

The disrupted water supply affects various industries in Oregon. The lower stream volume reduces the amount of water getting into hydroelectric dams. This, in turn, affects electricity generation in the summer and late spring.

The lower stream flows complicate water reservoirs and irrigation management. Lower water volume in the streams also stresses out the freshwater fish, particularly trout and salmon.

One of the most abundant greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide, is especially harmful to marine life. When the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, it results in acidic and corrosive water which negatively affects marine life.

Shellfish and oysters, among other sea life categories, are especially sensitive to acidic environments. Acidic oceans decline hatchery production, particularly around Netarts Bay. The acid water makes oyster shells softer, which is an industry risk.

The Predicted Climate Situation in Oregon

Governor Kate Brown said the wildfires in Oregon show the deadly impacts of the changing climate.

The Union of Concerned Scientists published a report in 2015. It concludes that temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are expected to increase up to 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit above current rates by the end of the century. The report further clarifies that the rate at which the temperature rises depends on the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

As the amount of heat-trapping gasses increase, UCS warns that wildfire frequencies could be twice the 2015 rate by 2040 and more than four times by 2080. This will further increase insects, pests, and forest diseases if the situation is not checked.

Climate Adaptation Framework in Oregon

The Oregon Climate Change Adaptation Framework was completed in 2010. The framework aimed to identify climate risks anticipated in the coming decades across the state and adaptation strategies. The framework identified 11 risk areas that result from climate change, either directly or indirectly.

The framework recommends the use of science, technology, and management tools to determine vulnerable habitats. This includes long term research and funding of climate change initiatives.

A report by The Nature Conservancy identified the various terrestrial landscapes that are resilient enough to sustain native biodiversity despite the effects of climate change.

The Climate Adaptation Framework also identifies, prioritizes, and implements measures and strategies to conserve state habitats and ecosystems. As the Pacific Northwest temperatures keep rising, the best approach to mitigate changes is implementing strategic management approaches.

The recommendations under the framework are to reduce threats and restore the right conditions in ecosystems. The framework has also fostered partnerships to coordinate responses to climate change.

Jurisdictions, culture, and politics create boundaries that make it hard to coordinate climate change efforts. Partnerships across these boundaries make responses to climate change better coordinated and effective.

Funding the War on Climate Change in Oregon

Young people in Oregon spoke up in March and April for the need to take climate action.

The Clean Energy Jobs Bill, which was voted through in 2020 by the Oregon Joint Committee, is very ambitious. It aims at consolidating taxes from various industries to fund its implementation.

The transport industry pays a carbon tax, which is under the state’s department of transport. Therefore, carbon taxes and allowances are consolidated under the Transportation Decarbonization Investment Account. This account is part of the Highway Trust Fund.

The Highway Trust Fund caters to transport infrastructure upgrades and repairs. These changes are aimed at making transport infrastructure more resilient to climate change. The HTF is also used to implement mass transport changes. These changes include light rail infrastructure and constructing bridges, dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit, sidewalks, and bikes.

The Climate Investment Fund is aimed at investing in clean and efficient energy and funding community resilience programs. Legally, 40% of the CIF should go to community projects.

The Just Transition Fund will have $10 million annually. This amount is aimed at implementing the just-transition program.

Various institutions are set to receive funding to carry out multiple studies on how to increase resilience against climate change. A considerable number of these institutions are tasked with studying ecosystems. For example, Oregon State University is set to receive $370,000 to conduct marine life breeding research and strategize on how to alleviate threats to the fishing industry.

Conclusion

Climate change is highly politicized in several states, Oregon being one of them. As such, politics have, on several occasions, won against the greater good of fighting climate change and building the resilience of Oregon communities. Governor Kate Brown created a path for other state leaders whose focus is to protect their communities despite being frustrated by the legal process.

For Oregon residents, it is essential to use the available resources to know more about the effects of climate change on communities and industries. The state’s leadership has ensured that communities are privy to climate change conversation. These communities are also beneficiaries of funding issued to combat climate change. Be part of the conversation on climate change and make your informed voice heard in policymaking.

Augurisk is a risk assessment platform for Climate Change, Natural Hazards and Societal Risks. We help people and businesses assess climate risks associated with their properties, so they can better prepare for the future.