Climate Change in Oregon
The scientific evidence is overwhelming that human-caused climate change is happening—a conclusion affirmed by 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists (Cook et al., 2016).
Oregonians strongly value our state’s natural beauty, outdoor recreation opportunities, and clean air and water. Climate change is threatening these values, as well as our economy, environment, and way of life. These impacts will affect Oregonians throughout the state. Certain populations—including low-income communities, communities of color, and rural areas—are particularly vulnerable and less able to respond to and cope with climate change.
Local scientists from the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute have found “strengthening evidence that Oregon is already experiencing the effects of climate change.” Check out their Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report for more comprehensive information on what’s happening now and what we can expect from continuing future climate change. We highlight some of the important impacts below from their report and other information sources about the economic and health implications of climate change.
it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominantcause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century (USGCRP, 2017)
If we as a society are able to significantly reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) to the levels identified in Oregon’s statewide goals and the global Paris climate agreement, we can reduce the amount and speed of future climate change and its associated impacts. Without major reductions in emissions, the likelihood grows that we will face more severe impacts and some potentially irreversible changes.
Oregon’s diverse natural resources sustain livelihoods for rural, coastal, and tribal communities, in addition to being a cornerstone of our state economy. Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and changes in coastal ocean waters are affecting agricultural and fishery productivity. This was seen most prominently in 2015’s record-setting drought, loss of snowpack (lowest on record at 89 percent below average), and record-high ocean temperatures that led to a harmful algal bloom of unprecedented magnitude stretching along the West Coast. Additionally:
- Two Pacific oyster hatcheries endured a 22 percent loss of production, a 13 percent decline in gross sales, and $73 million product loss related to ocean acidification in 2009. Disruptive ocean acidification conditions are expected to be commonplace in Oregon coastal surface waters by mid-century.
- Drought reduces forage and water availability for livestock grazing, and warmer temperatures reduce beef and dairy production and may enable crop diseases, pests, and invasive weeds. The severe lack water for irrigation in 2015 led to damaged crops, reduced yields, and fewer crops being planted.
- The 2015 drought conditions and lack of snowpack led to a historically severe wildfire season with more than 1.6 million acres burned across Oregon and Washington, resulting in more than $560 million in fire suppression costs.
- Forest disturbances (wildfires, drought, and insect outbreaks) are negatively affecting forestry yields, and climate change will continue to stress forests.
Our water, transportation, and energy infrastructure is also essential to support the economy and livelihoods of Oregonians. Flooding, landslides, drought, wildfire, and heat waves related to climate change are all existing threats to critical infrastructure across the state. These types of extreme events are projected to increase in the future, putting at risk Oregonians’ access to safe and adequate water supplies, hydropower, and transportation.
Environment & Health
The region has warmed substantially—nearly 2°F since 1900—and Oregon’s climate is projected to warm on average 3–7°F by the 2050s and 5–11°F by the 2080s under continued increasing greenhouse gas emissions. However, if emissions are substantially reduced by mid-century, we reduce our risk of the highest temperature increases—in other words, slowing down the turn of the dial to projected ranges of 2-5°F warmer by the 2050s and 2-7°F warmer by the 2080s.
These are average annual conditions, but it’s also important to consider seasonal changes and extremes. Summers are expected to warm more than the annual average and are likely to become drier. Extreme heat events are expected to become more frequent. Winter snowpack is expected to decline, while overall precipitation stays near normal or may increase slightly. With more rain instead of snow, fall and winter flood risk is expected to increase in most river basins. More extreme rainfall events are also expected in the future.
Warmer waters affect both river and coastal ecosystems, threatening salmon runs and other important marine and freshwater species. In eastern Oregon, large mountain areas have been hit by mountain pine beetle infestations, wildfires, or both, causing widespread shifts in forest ecosystems. Shifting weather patterns bring more drought to some forests, more rain and flooding to others.
Climate change is also taking a toll on our health, but studies show that the worst of future health risks may be avoided in scenarios in which greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced by mid-century. Extreme heat events, wildfires, changes in infectious and waterborne disease trends, and flooding are key climate-related health hazards in the Pacific Northwest:
- More frequent and long-lasting heat waves in Oregon are expected to increase heat-related illness and death. Older adults (especially those 85 years and older), infants, children, pregnant women, outdoor workers, and those with chronic illness are particularly vulnerable.
- More frequent wildfires make for poor air quality, which exacerbates health conditions, especially for children with asthma, pregnant women, and people with heart and lung illnesses. During the peak day of wildfire season this year, our state saw 586 emergency department visits related to asthma and respiratory-related issues, a 39 percent increase over the number expected for that day.
- Warming temperatures, changes in precipitation, and more extreme weather are projected to increase populations of disease-carrying vectors like mosquitoes with West Nile Virus and of the types of bacteria and toxic algae that contaminate shellfish and recreational waters for activities like swimming and boating.
- The projected increase in flooding related to extreme rainfall (combined with sea level rise at the coast) threaten infrastructure like roads, hospitals, and drinking and waste water treatment plants that are essential to safeguarding physical safety and human health.
Oregon's Way of Life
Climate change uniquely affects the culture, sovereignty, health, economy, and ways of life of the nine federally-recognized tribes in Oregon. Tribes that depend upon natural resources and ecosystems, both on and off reservations, are among the first to experience the impacts of climate change. Of particular concern are changes in the availability and timing of traditional foods such as salmon, shellfish, and berries, and other plant and animal species important to tribes’ traditional ways of life.
Oregon’s coast will face more flooding and erosion hazards in the future from global sea level rise and extreme weather, including storm surge. Along significant portions of Oregon’s coast, sea levels are expected to rise about 1 to 4 feet by the end of the century. Nearly a fifth of all housing in the state is located in vulnerable coastline counties, and property damages have been estimated to reach $33 million by 2040.
Oregon’s outdoor recreation industry is estimated to support $12.8 billion in consumer spending, $955 million in local and state tax revenue, $4 billion in wages and salaries, and 141,000 jobs. Sixty-eight percent of Oregon residents participate in outdoor recreation, with fish and wildlife-based recreation in Oregon valued at around $2.5 billion annually.
- Warmer stream temperatures, increased risk of habitat-damaging flooding, and reduced summer streamflows are expected to reduce suitable habitat by 47 percent for native fish like trout and salmon. Estimated negative effects on cold-water angling and the sport fishing industry may rise to up to $266 million by 2040.
- Climate change could result in a 72 percent reduction in snow-based recreation revenue (about $300 million) and visits (about 4.2 million) annually in the Northwest.
Salmon bake blessing photo courtesy of Oregon State University, via Creative Commons.
- Gamble, J.L., J. Balbus, M. Berger, K. Bouye, V. Campbell, K. Chief, K. Conlon, A. Crimmins, B. Flanagan, C. Gonzalez-Maddux, E. Hallisey, S. Hutchins, L. Jantarasami, S. Khoury, M. Kiefer, J. Kolling, K. Lynn, A. Manangan, M. McDonald, R. Morello-Frosch, M.H. Redsteer, P. Sheffield, K. Thigpen Tart, J. Watson, K.P. Whyte, and A.F. Wolkin (2016) Ch. 9: Populations of Concern. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC. http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0Q81B0T
- Dalton, M.M., K.D. Dello, L. Hawkins, P.W. Mote, and D.E. Rupp (2017) The Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report, Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR.
- USGCRP, 2017: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 470 pp, doi: 10.7930/J0J964J6
- Deehr, R. (2016) Oregon: Changing Climate, Economic Impacts, & Policies for Our Future. Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). Available at www.e2.org
- State Board of Agriculture (2017) State of Oregon Agriculture: Industry Report from the State Board of Agriculture, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Salem, OR. Available at http://www.oregon.gov/oda/shared/documents/publications/administration/boardreport.pdf
- Oregon Health Authority (2017) Oregon Syndromic Surveillance Project (ESSENCE), Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section, Public Health Division, Oregon Health Authority, Salem, OR. Available at http://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/DISEASESCONDITIONS/COMMUNICABLEDISEASE/PREPAREDNESSSURVEILLANCEEPIDEMIOLOGY/ESSENCE/Pages/index.aspx