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Oregon climate report spells out dire future, but author highlights reasons for optimism

"People are trying to look after themselves and their communities," the report's lead author said.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute released its sixth climate assessment for the state Wednesday and the report confirmed what lots of Oregonians already know: The climate is getting hotter. 

But while the report was full of alarming statistics and figures, lead author Erica Fleishman, director of the Oregon Climate Research Institute, said she found reasons for optimism in the document. 

The 2021 heat dome and 2020 Labor Day wildfires were galvanizing events, Fleishman said, and she's seen a discernible shift in the way many Oregonians are adapting to our changing climate.

"I think the takeaways are the number of different ways in which people are trying to look after themselves and their communities," she said.

Of course, Oregonians need to look out for each other in more concerted ways because greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere continue to warm the planet.

Oregon's average yearly temperatures have gone up by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit per century since 1895, according to the report, and will continue to rise in the coming decades.

"On average, it's getting hotter and we're getting more heat waves," Fleishman said. "We're getting longer heat waves and it's hotter during those times."

If global emissions remain at their current levels, average yearly temperatures will likely rise by five degrees by 2050 and eight degrees by 2080.

Summer temperatures would go up even more, with a rise of 10 degrees by 2080 if emissions aren't drastically reduced.

All that warming would likely have dire effects on the state's snowpack and glaciers according to the report, and would exacerbate the state's water problems, both for the agricultural sector and for the ecosystems that rely on winter snowpack and consistent streamflow.

"Seasonal droughts were projected to be 11–33 percent longer and at least 40 percent more severe by the end of the century," according to the report.

Despite the hazards that lie ahead in Oregon’s future, Fleishman said there were some positives to be found in the report as well.

The document included the results from a survey on Oregonians' wildfire preparedness. More than 90% said they had taken steps to be better prepared, including making evacuation plans, clearing defensible space around their homes and signing up for emergency alerts.

Fleishman also said an encouraging number of respondents had volunteered or donated to community efforts to increase resiliency. She said she thinks recent extreme weather events, made worse by climate change, have been catalyzing forces and have changed the way people think about our warmer future.

"People are looking at climate change in a lot of different ways, through whatever lenses are important to them, and finding increasingly diverse and creative ways to try to maintain quality of life and life," Fleishman said.

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