Year 4, Month 11, Day 16: It’s As Plain As The Face Underneath Your Nose

The Capital Press (WA) talks to farmers, who are worried about water, not the bigger picture.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Water worries carry more weight than climate change for two Western Washington farmers.

Dairy farmer Jay Gordon sees too much water, and he doesn’t know whether to blame coal-burning in China or a warming Earth, but “for a bunch of us in the Chehalis, the question is over: It’s raining more.”

Gordon and his wife own a 600-acre dairy on the Chehalis River that his family homesteaded in 1872. The river has flooded many times during that span. The most recent major floods, in 2007 and 2009, left vast areas of farmland and a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 underwater.

“The river gauge shows earlier floods, more floods and higher levels,” he said. “We’ve had four 100-year floods in 23 years’ time; 75 percent of the highest floods were in the past 23 years.”

He said fellow dairy farmers have told him, “I can’t handle one more of these. This is getting old.”

Gordon, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, spoke during a recent symposium on “Climate Change and the Future of Food.” Symposium sponsors and coordinators included Washington State University, the University of Washington, government agencies, conservation districts, researchers and a shellfish producer.

Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, said he doesn’t see climate change as a high priority.

“Everyone in ag knows about adapting to change,” he said. “It’s down on the list of worries.”

Uh-huh. November 6:

To worry about water while dismissing climate change is to obsess over symptoms while ignoring the sickness that causes them. A transforming climate cannot be separated from the state of water resources, whether they’re in the American West, the steppes of Central Asia, or the heart of the Amazon. A hotter atmosphere evaporates more water, creating higher humidity conditions while adding energy to the system as a whole. The result: more precipitation, less predictability — both conditions which make agriculture more difficult.

The phrase “climate change”, while an accurate description of a global phenomenon, doesn’t adequately convey the local and regional consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect. Some areas will experience devastating droughts — while elsewhere on the globe, that missing water will be flooding villagers and drowning fields. Extreme and unseasonal storms, wilder temperature swings, and significant loss of necessary biodiversity are just some of the symptoms we can expect in the coming decades as our increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2 make their impacts felt.

The future of water is inextricably linked to the future of our planet’s climate; to dismiss or downplay the connection is like fixating on birthday parties — while ignoring the processes of aging.

Warren Senders

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