Third WA Climate Assembly Learning Session Provides Dynamic Variety of Information and Suggestions

Environment & climate mitigation

The well-organized Learning Sessions continue providing much information to help Assembly members learn about what Climate Change is and what to do about it. Most presenters are Expert Presenters, usually with PhDs, and the rest are Interested Party Presenters with essential experience. Today as always, a Lands Acknowledgement was given for the tribes in Washington State who have been here since time immemorial.

The eight presentations focused on what environmental considerations, such as the impacts and the potentials, could lead to climate mitigation. Dr. Meade Krosby from the University of Washington explained the Climate Impacts on Habitat and Wildlife by stating, “the climate is altering the timing of biological events. Spring is starting three days earlier every decade.” This causes misalignment of natural systems that depend on each other, such as insects and birds arriving at different times, and flowers blooming before the bees appear. Besides this misalignment, animals are changing their ranges northward and upward. It’s difficult for many species to keep up. Some species in southern habitats are disappearing.

After an intense disturbance, like a fire or flood, rapid changes are likely to occur. Northwest forests will face a greater risk of insect and disease outbreaks. Forest habitat loss will reduce the amount of carbon stored there.

Animals that depend on snowpack are affected, including salmon at every stage of their complex lives. As sea levels rise and fall, coastal habitats will be at risk of flooding. Ocean acidification will weaken shellfish and marine food webs.

Dr. Krosby’s solutions included reducing the rate of warming by half a degree, increasing forest management to have more carbon sequestering, and improving ocean habitat to also store more carbon.

Paul Williams, a Senior Biologist for the Suquamish Tribe, identified the Impacts of Carbon Pollution on Marine Life.

This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through a steady increase in carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.”

Lynden B. Johnson — February 8, 1965

Williams noted how long we have known about the problem and cause of emissions. He went on to describe the issue of ocean warming and rising. The ocean covers 70% of the earth, and 3 billion people depend on it as their primary protein source. It also provides half of our oxygen. With 80% of global populations living within 60 miles of the coast and 3/4 of the big cities also located on the coast, people will need to move inland. Rising sea levels also cause groundwater to rise, causing flooding that ruins basements and farmlands and breaks pipes and roads.

The warmer water is causing fish to migrate towards the poles creating food security issues. From 2014-2016 the Blob in the Pacific increased ocean temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius, affecting many fisheries. In 2017 an algal bloom shut down the shellfish industry costing $97 million. Algal blooms seem to be increasing.

Warm water holds less oxygen, and oxygen is also depleted by bacteria that break down algae after it blooms. This reduction of oxygen causes dead zones. Ocean acidification makes it harder for shellfish to form their shells.

The 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott took away the lands of many tribes but left their fishing rights, which today are the main livelihood of many tribal members, yet these jobs are becoming threatened by climate change.

Williams said that local solutions (including hatcheries for clams, growing seaweed, protecting eelgrass and kelp) are limited because the problems of warming oceans and acidification are global. His main suggestion was to transition to clean energy. By declaring a state of emergency and then shifting educational goals to prepare youth for green jobs and ensure that underserved communities have access to them, our youth can prepare for the future.

Dr. Jessica Halofsky from the USDA and the US Forest Service presented on Forest Health and Wildfires. She explained the number of large fires, such as the Carlton Complex Fire, which burned 256,100 acres in 2014, are occurring more often. In 2015, 9 million acres burned in the western US. Dr. Halofsky noted fire footprints are colliding, and many areas reburn in a short period. Historically fires have increased with warm, dry summers. making more and larger fires likely.

forest fire

Her projections for the middle of the century include 2-3 times more of the annual area burned if we have a 2 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase. Forest practices are moving to natural regeneration rather than planting, and larger fires will make it harder to reseed and for seedlings to grow. Increased heat also provides a better habitat for Mt. Pine Beetles which are infesting forests and increasing their reproduction rate and range.

It is important to consider that forestry practices are changing and some areas may become non-forests, reducing carbon storage.

Jessica Randall is a Masters level Licensed Acupuncturist and presented on Actions to Improve Forest Health and Resilience. Fifty-two percent of Washington state is forest land, making it the largest focus for climate change and the best place to store carbon. Using a medical analogy, she compared our forests’ problems to someone living with a chronic disease.

Clearcutting and monoculture replanting of Douglas Fir creates damage to soil, and trees are harvested sooner due to their weakened state. Pesticides and increased insect infestation are also harming trees and the environment.

Randall would like to see an equal dialogue between nature and industry, replace clearcutting with variable density thinning, and stop using herbicides. Also, limit logging on public lands until we’re carbon neutral, lengthen harvest cycles, use local milling and manufacturing, and support businesses using sustainable materials.

Map of Cascadia Bioregion from Alaska to Northern California and west to the Rocky Mountains.

Brandon Letsinger, founder of the Cascadia Department of Bioregion, shared his vision of Bioregionalism. It is a philosophy with a unifying set of principles and tools to fight climate change, by living responsibly and using place-appropriate technologies within the confines of what our region can sustain. Letsinger maintains watershed boundaries would serve people better than countries based on current boundaries. The Cascadia Bioregion, where Letsinger lives, stretches 2500 miles from Alaska to Northern California and the Rocky Mountains to the east. The Columbia River watershed provides an excellent example of the interconnectedness of that area.

Using natural boundaries like watersheds would avoid legal, language, and cultural issues that arise when using arbitrary borders. Managing our local resources better and introducing hemp to produce paper products would help protect our forests.

Among Letsinger’s solutions are to use a bioregional model to work together, support climate emergency workers, and use data based on regions to address climate change.

Julianne Gale and Zephyr Elise from Mason County Climate Justice presented on Healthy Soils Build Healthy Food, Climate, and Community. They started with a charming video that showed how vital carbon is to everything on earth. “The more carbon stays in the soil, the better the soil is because it can hold more water,” Gale said. Keeping the soil covered and undisturbed by avoiding tilling, digging, clearcutting, or mechanical mowing is the best way to protect it. Minimizing chemical disturbances such as pesticides, insecticides and pollution also protects the soil. Over or under grazing can harm soils.

Soil with a worm on top of it.

Supporting farmers to transition to regenerative agriculture as New Mexico is doing with their 2019 Healthy Soil Act that created the Healthy Soil Program is a realistic goal. Both short term and long term benefits for Climate Change are achieved when the soil carbon sponge is restored. It will:

  • Cool landscapes
  • Reduce flood and drought
  • Reduce sea level rise by holding more water on land
  • Reduce wildfire risks by providing more water for plants
  • Provide abundant clean water and more nutrient-rich food locally for all life
  • Bring degraded and desertified land back to life
  • Reduce forced migration

Humans and animals are better for this type of agriculture (less carbon emitted, more connection to the land, and more meaningful work for more humans

Suggestions were to support farmers in transitioning to regenerative agriculture; subsidizing living wage jobs to restore ecosystems; maintaining a moratorium on clearcutting, monoculture and, pesticides; and incentivizing local food growing, processing, and distributing.

Heather Trim, the Executive Director of Zero Waste Washington, presented on Zero Waste and Climate Change, beginning with a brief history of plastics’ growth that started after World War II. Now 30-40% of plastics are single-use items that could be reduced. Thirty-seven percent of US GHG emissions comes from the consumption of goods, many made of plastic.

Dumpster full to overflowing with garbage

The oil and gas boom in fracking during the last two decades has increased the plastic resin refineries as companies transition from oil and gas production. More non-recyclable plastic containers are being made. Combining material packaging, such as a plastic container with an aluminum top, makes it unrecyclable. China stopped taking our recycling, and recycling rates in the US have fallen while the cost has gone up.

At 28.5%, organic materials are the largest amount of garbage going into landfills. 17% of that is food, half of which is edible the other half inedible. Landfills create methane. It is 20 times more potent than CO2, making it one-third of our human-made methane source.

Legislators are presenting several zero-waste bills in WA State this year.

  • HB 1212 Promoting the fair servicing and repair of digital electronic products to increase access to appropriate and affordable digital products, support small businesses and jobs, and enhance digital connectivity in Washington state.
  • SB 5286 Establishing a statewide organic waste management goal.
  • HB 1118 SB 5022 Concerning the management of certain materials to support recycling and waste and litter reduction

Reducing waste by consuming less, keeping your cell phone one more year, repairing, recycling, and composting are necessary goals for all of us.

Jason Steinberg, from the University of Washington, shared on Green Roofs and Equitable Climate Mitigation. He began with a review of the amount of growth in Washington State in all major cities and towns, noting a 13.2% population increase between2010 and 2019. Plants absorb CO2, and sometimes the carbon goes into the soil. Steinberg believes the way to mitigate GHG emissions is by “vegetating” cities with green roofs.

One-quarter of the space in Seattle is roof space. In Washington state, there is two Seattle’s worth of roof space. Three basic types of green roofs are extensive, semi-intensive, and intensive. There are many protective layers below the soil to protect the roof.

Three types of green roofs

Other green roof benefits include the following:

  • Reduced energy usage for heating and cooling
  • Reduced urban heat island effect
  • Urban agriculture
  • Roof membrane lifespan is 2 times longer
  • Stormwater runoff mitigation
  • Air pollution removal
  • Sound insulation
  • Increased biodiversity
  • Social opportunities
  • Psychological benefits
  • Increased natural aesthetic

Costs are higher up-front, but long-term savings and job creation balance that out. Across cities in the US and North America, there are many policies and some mandates regarding green roofs on new construction. In New York subsidies and tax abatements helped reduce the costs for green roof construction starting in 2019. Where green spaces are a requirement, green roofs are an acceptable option. When solar and green roofs are combined, they complement each other. Seattle also has buildings with green walls and solar walls.

A roof with solar panels and plants growing next to and under them.

The 3rd Learning Session wrapped up with Q & A’s and “Around the Campfire” to encourage a sense of community in this virtual process. Join the next (4th) Learning Session on Tuesday, January 26th at 6 pm at the WA Climate Assembly YouTube Channel.

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