How Climate Change Is Impacting the Northwest, and How Seattle Is Fighting Back

Above: If nothing is done to mitigate climate change, all the blue parts in this map of Seattle will be underwater during high tide come year 2100. (Via Seattle Public Utilities/NCA)

For decades now, scientists have been 99 percent sure climate change is about to kick modern civilization’s ass. The latest chapter in this saga came earlier today when researchers confirmed that the West Antarctic ice sheet began melting, an event that could result in a 10 foot global sea level rise over the next century. This comes just a week after the release of the National Climate Assessment (NCA), which, in addition to many other things, pinpoints exactly how climate change is going to kick the ass of the Pacific Northwest. Serendipitously, Seattle released its first citywide environmental-accomplishments report, titled Moving the Needle, right before the ominous NCA came out. Let’s confront the impending doom the NCA outlines for our region, and examine what green things Seattle is doing to subvert the apocalypse (or at least fight a valiant, ill-fated battle against it).

• Snowpack in the Cascades (above) has decreased 20 percent since 1950 and is melting 30 days earlier than normal in the spring. By 2050, it will melt three to four weeks earlier than that, packing the one-two punch of reducing the region’s water supply while simultaneously increasing flood risk.

• The flood risk is tough to dodge, but the impact of a decrease in water supply is softened by the fact that regional water consumption has fallen 24 percent since 1990, despite the 22 percent increase in Seattle’s population in that time.

• Seattle is also preparing for a sag in the supply of hydroelectricity, having already met and surpassed its goal to save 105,200 megawatts of electricity annually: 121,290 were saved in 2013, thanks to an increase in green-certified buildings.

• Assuming no adaptation, Seattle Public Utilities predicts that by the year 2100, higher sea levels will flood Harbor Island (above), Smith Cove, and the vast majority of the waterfront during high tide—making the obnoxious “Ducks,” unfortunately, a viable transportation option.

• Another viable transit option will be pedal power: Bicycle usage in Seattle has jumped an astounding 59 percent since 2011 thanks to improved bike routes. Also, Seattle has joined the small crop of cities where less than half of commuters travel via single-occupancy vehicles.

• By 2080, thanks to decreased water supply, forest wildfires are projected to quadruple the median area burned, compared to the past 90 years. Also, by 2080, 21 to 38 existing tree and plant varieties will no longer be climatically suited to the Northwest, meaning forest ecosystems “may undergo almost complete conversion to other vegetation types.”

• That would be bad land conversion. But there is good land conversion too. Since 1990, the amount of publicly accessible land for food production has increased 104 percent. In 2010, a recorded 4,772 P-Patch gardeners were actively urban-farming. In 2013, that number climbed to 6,329, a 32 percent increase.

• And a final note: On average, a single Seattle citizen currently emits half the carbon the average U.S. citizen does. But that’s not enough. By 2015, Seattle will adapt a climate-preparedness strategy intending to make the city carbon-neutral by 2050—an accomplishment that will perhaps distract us from the lack of powder on the slopes that year.

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