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‘We have to adapt’: US Pacific north-west weighs plans to cope with extreme weather | Climate crisis

‘We have to adapt’: US Pacific north-west weighs plans to cope with extreme weather | Climate crisis

Jose Ortiz tried to keep cool outside his school bus home in the Sodo neighborhood of Seattle during a record-breaking heat wave.

FIn December, Seattle and the surrounding areas were blanketed by heavy snow. Then came the torrential rains, flooding, and then in January. One by one, four of the region’s main mountain passes were deemed impassable, and a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 south of Seattle was closed.

It was the first time that all five were closed in more than a decade. This left the Seattle area virtually isolated from cross-state travel.

It was just the latest in a string of extreme weather events that have ravaged the Pacific north-west over this past year. Even though Washington is a mild-weathered state, it started with heavy snowfall in February. It was followed by dry, scorching summer temperatures that left more 100 people dead. Then came a record-breaking amount of rain in the Seattle region.

With more severe extreme weather predicted in the coming years, driven by climate crisis, a bipartisan collection of Washington state lawmakers has simultaneously introduced A few billsThis legislative session will focus on climate adaptation, instead of focusing on mitigation or emission reduction.

These innovations are meant to prepare the state for the future.

“I just think we’re definitely seeing much more extreme weather events and this is going to become the norm, not the one-off,” said Washington senator Mark Mullet, a Democrat, who introduced the proposal to add air conditioners.

He explained that the legislation was inspired in part by a conversation with a local firefighters who recalls going on three calls during the heat dome in June to homes for seniors, and finding that residents had died from the heat.

These proposals also reflect a wider trend in the last five year’s climatemk movement, which has increasingly recognized adaptation’s importance, explained Aseemprakash, professor of politics at the University of Washington and director of Center for Environmental Politics.

The recent Glasgow climate pact doubled climate funds allocated for adaptation. The Biden administration took office in October. PublishedClimate adaptation and resilience plans, which included building supply chain resilience and increasing protections to workers and communities when it is about climate change.

Prakash explained that even though we immediately reduce our emissions, the climate crisis is already being felt.

“So we have to adapt. I think the climate movement realizes this political and moral necessity to adapt,” he said. “And also, whenever we have floods, extreme heat waves, who suffers? It’s really the poor people, the underprivileged. So there is also a very important climate justice component.”

Justin Allegro, director of state government relations for The Nature Conservancy in Washington, said it’s important that it doesn’t become an either-or situation.

“It doesn’t make sense to only invest in one strategy,” he said. “We know that the impacts of climate change are going to continue to happen and there’s so much we can do as a state to better prepare and better respond and better create resiliency. And at the same time, every effort to fundamentally reduce emissions quickly and rapidly and equitably is something that we need to do.”

Jose Ortiz tried to keep cool outside his school bus home in the Sodo neighborhood of Seattle during a record-breaking heat wave.
Jose Ortiz tried keeping cool on the bus to school in Sodo, Seattle, during a record-breaking heat wave.Photograph: Bettina Hanen/AP

In Washington stateMari Leavitt, a Democrat introduced a proposal to establish a grant program to assist local jurisdictions, federally recognized tribes, and with the extra costs associated with extremely hot, cold, or unhealthy air quality from wildfires.

She explained that the grants would be flexible to accommodate each area’s distinct needs, but could be used for such things as adding additional cooling shelters and HVAC systems, or even simply providing more fans and water for those in need.

“Those extreme weather events will continue,” she said. “And we just weren’t ready and the resources weren’t available, so cooling centers were getting open later, and for limited periods of time.”

She gave the example of a cooling center in Lakewood, Washington, about 40 miles south-west of Seattle, which wasn’t set up until a few days after the heatwave started and despite firefighters trying to drop people off in the morning, didn’t open its doors until noon.

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“I asked the question, ‘Why did it take so long?’ The response I got back was, ‘We were trying to figure out the resources in order to open,’” she said.

Another proposal being considered is the outdoor recreation and climate adaptation (Orca) plan, which would direct the projected $4.4bn in revenue between 2023 and 2032 through the state’s recently passed Climate Commitment Act to climate adaptation and outdoor recreation. Currently, the majority of those funds are designated to emission-reducing transportation programs, given the central role it plays in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Mary Dye, the Washington Republican representative who supports the Orca plan, stated that instead of building structures to protect communities from floods and improving forest health, the funds should be used to reduce wildfires.

“I think that you have to get real and be honest and do good things today that will help our state really be able to adapt to the things that are before us,” she said.

Prakash explained that the proposals are still quite targeted and do not come with a large price tag.

“I hope it comes up even more forcefully, because this is an issue we have to confront,” he said. “And this is not to say we should not mitigate. We must certainly mitigate. But we also have to start taking adaptation more seriously, which we haven’t.”

Nick Bond, the Washington state climatologist, said it’s clear the state could have done a better job when it came to responding to these extreme weather events.

He said: “Hopefully we can learn from it so that when the next one comes along there won’t be as much loss of life, and to figure out just what we can do to reach those folks that don’t have the resources to get themselves out of a threatening situation.”

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