Climate Change Series
Part One: Causes and Science
Is it climate change or global warming? Climate change and global warming both refer to the increase in overall, long-term global temperatures that have been occurring since the industrial revolution. “Global warming” is a term specifically referring to the overall long-term warming trends and predicted continued global warming into the future. “Climate change” is the all-encompassing term that describes changes in wind, precipitation, extreme weather events, and length of seasons as well as temperatures.
What is Anthropogenic (human) Global Warming (AGW)? To start off, the Earth has a natural greenhouse effect with four major gases in its atmosphere: water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and ozone. When solar radiation from the sun reaches Earth’s surface it becomes infrared thermal radiation (heat). Some of this thermal radiation escapes into outer space, while the rest is reflected back to Earth by greenhouse gases, keeping the planet warm enough for life. Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and deforestation all add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases reflects more thermal radiation back to Earth’s surface causing temperatures to rise.
But it snowed a lot in Beaverton this winter! Doesn’t that prove global warming is wrong? No, because Beaverton’s short-term weather does not represent global climate averages. Even if all of North America is abnormally cold for a month, the rest of the Earth could still be experiencing warmer than average temperatures. It is important to look at AGW at a global-scale, as well as to look at long-term climate trends compared to averages and not just specific regions or weather events.
Part Two: Climate Change Impacts
What global and national impacts will climate change have on Oregon? Climate change will likely play a role in driving future national and global migrations with many looking at the Pacific Northwest as a place of refuge. Oregon and Washington State are already two of the fastest growing states in the U.S.
Why is climate change bad? Climate change is expected to increase the severity, length and frequency of severe weather events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms. Sea level rise coupled with increased storm surges will flood many of the world’s most densely populated regions, fertile agricultural land and infiltrate salt water into freshwater aquifers and wetlands. All of these factors will have negative impacts on agriculture, food security, the economy, public health and safety.
Expect warmer and wetter conditions here in Beaverton. The Pacific Northwest will likely experience increased rainfall during the fall, winter and spring with decreased mountain snowfall and much hotter and drier summers resulting in the gradual shrinkage of Cascade Glaciers. This will increase the severity of winter floods and summer droughts with much lower stream flows during the late summer. Increased energy use during the summer coupled with low stream flows will reduce the ability of hydropower facilities to meet those demands. This will also increase forest fires, resulting in poor air quality, loss of timber resources, ecological degradation and increased winter flooding and landslides.
Part Three: Climate Change Policy, Agencies and Plans
Global: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty negotiated in 1992 to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". Linked to the UNFCCC are the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Agreement (2015) both of which chart global efforts towards greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction, climate change adaption and finance and aim to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) through the end of the century.
National: In the U.S. various federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conduct scientific research on climate change impacts and administer policies addressing GHG emissions.
Regional (Oregon and Beaverton): The State of Oregon has the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute created by the Oregon state legislature to research climate change, serve as a clearinghouse for climate change information and provide climate change information to the public. The Oregon Global Warming Coalition recommends ways to coordinate state and local efforts to reduce GHG emissions. The City of Beaverton developed the Sustainable Beaverton Strategy (SBS) in 2014, a city operations, action plan with a GHG reduction target of 80% by 2050. City staff are currently working to update the SBS and to develop the city’s first climate action plan which will serve as a community plan for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
The City of Beaverton is affiliated with the following organizations: