Alright Seattle, where's the rain?
Photo via Reddit
Pulled back to consciousness by the sound of your alarm clock, you roll over and glance out the window to yet another hazy shade of grey. One foot out the door and the cool mist greets your face as you habitually zip up your jacket and raise your hood. This is how most days begin because you live in Seattle. Or so I expected when I moved here last August. But that is far from how the days begin now.
As I write this, it's early July, historically just the beginning of summertime in the Pacific Northwest, but if feels like we've already had a full summer's worth of relentlessly hot sunshine and cloudless skies here in Seattle. To say this weather is untypical for the Northwest is an understatement. I can't remember the last time it rained here. Even for five minutes, I really can't recall.
Growing up in northwestern Oregon, I have bittersweet memories of walking home from school with my jeans soaked through, futilely gripping my hood to shield my eyes from the rain. Memories of tennis matches cancelled, Harry Potter movie marathons, and lots of cookie baking, all while the drops came down for hours and days and weeks and months. At least it seemed that way.
But that's the climate of the Pacific Northwest, and when you live here you learn to love it. Well, you grow to accept it (and probably secretly love it). You embrace it for what it is with the understanding that you are earning that summertime bliss. Anyone who has lived here knows that the summers here are worth the wait. But this year is very different. A statewide drought emergency was declared in mid-May, with snowpack in the Cascade mountains at its lowest level in 64 years. Glaciers on Mount Rainier, the 14,411-foot stratovolcano that serves as Seattle's imposing and spectacular backdrop, are melting at six times the historic rate.
that this endless heat is
not another terrifying indicator of climate change's new normal. Instead, they attribute it to a massive dome of high pressure, or "ridging," over the West Coast and heightened ocean temperatures-not unusual given
El Niño's presence. However, they do caution that it is a sample of what Seattle will be like once global climate change warms the planet. And that prospect is terrifying.
Instead of the friendly rain that PNW residents happily coexist with, climate change will bring more rain that arrives in sudden, violent downpours. Increased precipitation in the form of rain, not snow, will come with higher avalanche danger in the Cascades and a surge in the rate of glacial thinning on Rainier and other peaks. Less snow will also mean lower stream flows during the summer and fall, higher water temperatures and a dramatically altered aquatic ecosystem. Endangered species like salmon will struggle even harder to survive. Seattle and Portland have some of the most progressive environmental policies in the country, undoubtedly due partly to their being surrounded by some of the most majestic natural areas in North America. But their efforts alone cannot prevent the climatic shift that will transform the Pacific Northwest and the life of its inhabitants.
The places we live are more than just a location-they are a part of our identity, a source of familiar comfort, and a setting for cherished memories with people we love. Whether or not we think about it regularly, the climate of a place largely impacts the way of life there. Climate change will alter that way of life,
way of life. Is this what we want? If not, what can we do? The answer is, we can do a lot.
It is time to get honest about our responsibility as humans living in a society to protect the places we love. Do we need to personally take action everyday to do this? Yes. Incremental shifts add up, and eventually build enough momentum to make a measurable impact. Shifts such as driving less and walking or biking more, conserving water and other vital resources, and refusing to accept a 'throw-away culture' that overwhelms landfills and pollutes the oceans are all part of the solution. Only when we can get real with ourselves and our role in protecting our beloved places can we gain the empowering energy that allows us to do more.