Climate change is doing more than raise ocean levels and global temperatures — it is also playing cruel tricks on Mother Nature.
David Mildrexler, a systems ecologist for Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands, made this and many other often alarming points Thursday during his presentation, “Future Trends in Climates and Ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest” at La Grande’s Cook Memorial Library. A portion of Mildrexler’s presentation addressed the impact of global warming and included recent photos of snowshoe hares whose coats change from white to rusty brown during the year to help them blend in with their surroundings. The pictures are disturbing for they show snowshoe hares with white fur against a background of dark vegetation and soil and barren of snow.
“It does not blend in with the surroundings anymore (in late winter and early spring),” Mildrexler said of the snowshoe hare. “It is more vulnerable now.”
This is an indication of how snow is disappearing in many locations earlier each year because of global warming.
“Snow is declining everywhere. It is very concerning,” Mildrexler said.
Those who are being impacted in a big way by climate change include people living in coastal areas. Mildrexler said rising sea levels caused by glaciers melting due to warmer weather are putting towns near oceans at risk.
“Coastal areas are very vulnerable,” Mildrexler said.
This means natural events like full moons that raise ocean levels may make communities in areas near oceans more likely to experience flooding in the future.
Mildrexler said if climate change continues and its impact reaches a disastrous level, rural areas like Northeast Oregon will be greatly affected. He explained that this is because rural areas rely so much upon natural resources that would be hurt by drought and other climate change impacts.
“They rely on ecosystems,” he said, adding that this is a reason for rural America to lead the effort to tackle climate change.
Mildrexler said the key to taking on climate change is to do everything possible to reduce carbon dioxide
emissions, which trap heat. Most man-made carbon dioxide emissions are created by the use of gasoline and coal as energy sources.
“We have got to keep coal in the ground and limit consumption of oil,” he said.
Mildrexler said this can be done in part by taking prudent steps to boost energy efficiency, such as upgrading hydroelectric dams. Replacing dam turbines with more efficient ones can boost production substantially.
Urban planning with energy efficiency in mind is another step that should be taken, he said. Cities should be designed so that people do not have to drive five miles to get something like a gallon of milk but instead would have closer stores to choose from and energy-efficient forms of transportation like electric bicycles to reach them.
The scientist, who lives in Wallowa County, said much of his presentation was a reflection of what he has learned from working under Steve Running, an emeritus professor of ecology at the University of Montana. Running shared a Nobel Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change. Running often stresses that it is important, Mildrexler said, to understand the difference between weather and climate.
“When you look out the window, that’s weather. It is constantly changing,” Mildrexler said. “Climate is the long-term condition of the weather over years and decades.”
This means that people should look upon events like occasional snowstorms in late spring as anomalies instead of an indication of the status of our climate.
Mildrexler said scientists began picking up on a climate change trend decades ago, but it was not until recent years that it has escalated significantly. One of the most distributing trends he has seen is how quickly the total portion of the Earth judged to have extreme heat is increasing.
“It blows my mind,” he said.
Mildrexler’s talk was sponsored by the Union County Progressives, Wallowology Natural History Discovery Center, Greater Hells Canyon Council and Union County Democrats.