Ensia

9 images of climate impacts and adaptation in the Pacific Northwest

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Courtesy of Ensia

Residents of the Pacific Northwest begrudgingly refer to the month of June as “June-uary,” a reference to the fact that the wet weather can often make it feel like midwinter. But this past June, Seattle had less rain than Phoenix.

Even more significant is that last winter there was very little snow. That’s especially important for the Pacific Northwest, one of the few parts of the U.S. where mountain snowpack, not man-made reservoirs, provides most of the water storage capacity. While there were near-normal levels of precipitation, most of it fell as rain rather than snow, because it was also the warmest winter on record.

Climate scientists have dubbed the summer’s drought “a dress rehearsal for the future.” These conditions are predicted to become average by mid-century as glaciers recede and mountain snowpack responds to even minor warming.

The impacts of drought in this characteristically wet region were similar to those of drought in other parts of the country. Washington had the worst fire season on record, with even remote coastal rainforests going up in flames. More than a million fish died in the state’s hatcheries due to disease related to high temperatures and low water levels. And farmers without water rights lost entire crops.

But the drought also offered a chance to explore what climate resilience really means in practice. While it’s clear there is no how-to manual or one-size-fits-all solution for building resilience to climate impacts, the experience validated three core guiding principles: diversity, integrity and innovation. However complex the conceptual framework behind resilience theory is, these principles offer simple guidance. The more diverse a system, the more it can respond to change. The more intact an ecosystem or the more innovative solutions available, the greater ability a community will have to weather change.

In our day-to-day world, climate change often seems intangible and abstract, and climate resilience is more a buzzword than a practice. The images here attempt to bring sharper focus to both climate impacts and what it means to put climate resilience into practice.

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