B ob Dylan’s 1964 hit song says, “The times they are a-changin.” As times have changed, so has the world’s climate, and it is time that Americans prepare for its worst effects.
The East Coast is already grappling with more intense hurricanes, while the Pacific Northwest has endured lengthier fire seasons. America’s defense institutions are increasingly answering the call to provide relief to areas affected by climate change, while at home we must take action in our communities to adapt to changing climates.
In 2015, the Department of Defense delivered a report to Congress entitled “National Security Implications of Climate-related Risks and a Changing Climate” that detailed the challenges America’s national security agencies are facing as a result of climate change. Flooding in Pakistan in 2010 required the Department of Defense to deliver humanitarian aid to remote regions, while 24,000 DOD personnel were deployed in New Jersey and New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to offer direct and secondary support. This report concludes that, “The Department of Defense sees climate change as a present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk,” which affects “vulnerable nations and communities, including in the United States.”
In Union County, we have all watched the summer skies grow hazier over the years, and if the Defense Department is to be believed, climate change will only worsen the disasters we experience in rural Oregon.
Early August saw an air quality level of 111 in Cove at a time when La Grande experienced record high temperatures. The air quality rating at Shady Cove School outside of Medford reached 344 over the summer. Poor air quality forced Ashland’s acclaimed Shakespeare Festival to cancel or move 19 performances this summer — down from 20 in 2017. With a fire season that has grown from 23 days in the 1970s to 116 by the 2000s, we can only expect poorer air quality, more widespread property damage and the loss of precious human lives going forward.
While few of us possess the capability to deliver humanitarian aid to remote villages in South Asia or even venture to North Carolina to assist the victims of Hurricane Florence, each of us can do our part by supporting the brave emergency responders on the front lines of the climate crisis in Union County.
Rural La Grande, Elgin, Union and Imbler are all served by volunteer rural fire protection districts that could use additional support from people participating in their governing board meetings, dining at fundraisers such as the Elgin Firemen’s Breakfast and volunteering as firefighters when the need arises.
Citizens can push their cities and counties to adopt official contingency plans for dealing with fires, such as a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, or serve on bodies such as the Air Quality Commission in La Grande, which currently has no members.
As we face the looming specter of unpredictable weather and more drastic fire seasons, we need to remember that we are not helpless victims of climate change. Fighting back is no insurmountable goal when we work together for the good of our neighbors.
Alex is the former chair of the Eastern Oregon University College Republicans. A graduate of EOU and College of the Canyons in Valencia, California, he is a veteran of multiple local, state, and national campaigns, including Bud Pierce for Oregon Governor, and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio for President.