A s I contemplated the recent summer burn bans, I worried that perhaps my children will never remember a summer night of roasted marshmallows over a roaring campfire.
Maybe instead, with watery eyes and burning lungs, they’ll find ashes, raining like snow from a burned orange sky, commonplace. Will phrases like “decreased snowpack” and “water scarcity” echo continuously in the world we create for ourselves and leave for our little ones?
Research by the American Meteorological Society has shown that we’re already seeing crop and livestock losses due to drought, fire and flooding; shifts in planting and harvests; and wide-scale weather and storm damage to land and roads. Rural areas, like Union County, are particularly vulnerable to global climate volatility due to physical isolation, lack of economic diversity, an aging population and high levels of poverty.
The National Climate Assessment’s “Rural Communities” research points out that sectors such as agriculture face disproportionate vulnerability, and changes can place a huge tension on community stability.
Our current leadership seems to brush this thought under the rug as we brace ourselves for the next crisis — flood, wildfire, drought, whatever may come. Our congressional representatives overwhelmingly respond to the climate call with half-baked ideas about forest thinning and moving funds from one allocation to another. Although these ideas have their merits in theory, they are merely applying a bandage to an already hemorrhaging wound.
Meanwhile, elected officials think we rural Oregonians are simple-minded enough to accept the short-term employment benefit of further oil exploration and coal-fired power plants on the national scale.
They are shaking our hands while turning their back on us. I wish I could say that motives for coal and oil development by Congress were actually to stimulate job creation, but the truth is they have been bought. Dollar signs cloud their vision as they gallivant from one big donor meeting to the next — all the while wildfire smoke clouds ours. At some point, we have to ask ourselves, “Who are they really listening to?”
Destroying the few valuable resources remaining while the threat of a greater issue literally stifles the air we breathe is an insult to our intelligence and way of life. We need only look to the rural communities of Appalachia and the lessons they learned from a century of coal mining: long-term illness, water contamination, community upheaval, economic depression and, last, joblessness and uncertain access to health care. We have seen these economic collapses in other industries too.
Just as a beating heart needs fresh blood to keep pumping, our economy needs a fresh supply of diverse industries to sustain itself.
Instead of investing in antiquated and economically unviable, non-renewable industries like coal, we need to diversify our economy to create resilience as we face rough roads ahead.
The best investment we can make is in initiatives that enable our community to sustain itself: to support our food systems, protect our resources and stand up to billionaires who are trying to take it all away. Not only is it in our best environmental interest — it is in the interest of the longevity of our economy, health and rural way of life.
If the goal is to work hard and give your kids the very best, it is your moral imperative to make decisions that allow your children to thrive.
The most important and lasting gift you can bestow upon them will be the gift of clean water, clean air and the ability to be resilient.
Voting in the November 2018 election is the best way rural Oregonians can protect our health and environment, which we pass down to our children. If we work together to elect representatives who are not in the pocket of big gas and oil, we can protect ourselves before it’s too late.
Anna Morgan-Hayes is a La Grande resident, wife, mother of three
Master of Natural Resources, Oregon State University, Emphasis: Water Conflict Management and Transformations
B.S. Environmental Studies, University of Oregon, Emphasis: Sustainable Design, Policy, Planning, and Public Management