climate report

Reading recommendations fill our social-media feeds this time of year. Every tome is touted as a must-read, supposedly perfect for that special someone on your shopping list. From political tell-alls to pot boilers, erudite meditations on the human condition to bawdy bodice-rippers, we get the hard sell to buy, buy, buy.

We, too, have a reading choice to endorse. It’s free, yours at the click of a URL. The title is a mouthful and the manuscript a tad long, more than 1,000 pages, but there are colorful graphics to break up the gray. We must warn, though, that the scenario is disturbing — dystopic, actually.

Its title: “U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment, Vol. II.”

Not to give away any spoilers but, people, we’re in trouble. This congressionally-mandated report, compiled by scores of governmental agencies and departments, outlines in stark terms the projected impact of climate change — specifically greenhouse-gas emissions already leading to temperature increases — on the United States’ economy, health, environment and our very existence. Here’s a blurb: “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.”

Now, we know you lead busy lives and don’t have time to comb through pages of dreary, almost apocalyptic, predictions based on clear and irrefutable scientific evidence. But it might behoove you to at least download Chapter 24 (link: bit.ly/2r5KjLC), titled “Northwest.” The prognostications are no less dire — in fact, maybe more chilling because it hits so close to home.

Here, according to a scientific consensus, is the gist about what awaits our state should climate change continue unabated: fires in the forest, spread of disease, droughts in parched fields, floods on the coast, salmon die-offs, closed ski resorts, smoky summer (and fall) skies. Think the drought year of 2015. Every. Single. Year.

Yes, it’s that severe. Let’s take a closer look at Chapter 24, especially as it pertains to life in the Yakima Valley our kids and grandkids will inherit:

• Changes that those who grow apples and other tree fruit already have experienced — early flowering due to high spring temperatures, resulting in “a mismatch with the availability of pollinators required for fruit setting — will increase dramatically, affecting yield and quality. High summer temperatures will be more prevalent, leading to “sunburn scald on apples and softer berry crops that can be damaged in transport and harvest.” That, in turns, leads to low selling prices.

• Wine producers will feel the pinch of limited water supplies for irrigation that, long-term, will see “changes to average growing season temperatures and the number of severe hot days” that will reduce “premium” wine grape production.

• Warmer and drier seasons, due to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, will reduce forage and rangeland quality and quantity for ranchers. The region’s cattle producers will need to buy additional feed and fight other area farmers for dwindling irrigation needs — water storage capacity helps, but not if the snowpack is low, which the report says it will be.

• Even if forest management is improved via prescribed burns, expect more wildfires in the Northwest due to climate change. “These changes are expected to increase as temperatures increase and as summer droughts deepen,” the report stated. “For forests that grow in areas with snowpack, the declining snowpack is projected to worsen summer drought conditions, increasing vulnerability to drought caused by year-to-year precipitation variability.”

• Increased stream temperature will reduce the state’s salmon habitat by 22 percent by late in the century unless emissions are greatly lowered. That will equal $3 billion in economic losses and decrease all cold-water angling. As for game species, the report states “the primary climate-related impact will likely come from increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

• A decreased snowpack in low- to mid-elevation areas (think White Pass or Crystal Mountain) will harm the snow-based recreation industry by 70 percent annually. Ditto for rafting, boating, fishing and other water-based recreation.

• Degraded air quality, the result of increased wildfires, will “reduce the opportunity for and enjoyment of all outdoor recreation activities, such as camping, biking, hiking, youth sports, and hunting. Degraded air quality also directly impacts human health and quality of life.”

There’s more. Oh, lots more. The report’s authors go so far as to say that the drought of 2015 might become the norm in the Northwest.

Might that disturbing scenario spur people to finally take seriously government scientists’ call for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in clean energy usage, such as solar?

The ending has yet to be written.

• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis.

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