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Climate change is a fact we must accept now

People who say the Clackamas River holds water enough to slake the thirst of a burgeoning population have their heads in the sand — an appropriate metaphor, given the shrinking glaciers and dwindling snowpack on Mount Hood.

The Oregon Court of Appeals sent a different message when it ruled Dec. 31 that cities and water districts must limit the amount of water they draw from the lower Clackamas to comply with state law, which calls for leaving enough in the river to accommodate endangered fish.

These fish include what may be “the last run of self-sustaining wild Coho salmon in the Columbia Basin,” according to Lisa Brown, an attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon, the Portland conservation group that brought suit against the state.

Those who see a need to share the Clackamas with fish employ the only argument with any teeth in the courts: saving threatened species from extinction. But there is another argument that is bound to gain traction as climate change tightens its grip: saving the human race.

A growing population means heavier water use. A diminished snowpack, coupled with vanishing glaciers, means less water to share. When the tipping point comes, a water war will flare. LOT (Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership) will square off against the South Fork Water Board (West Linn-Oregon City), and both will duke it out with the North Clackamas County Water Board.

As the late poet William Stafford wrote, “Every war has two losers.” Amend that to three. But as with every war between nations, the war between water boards will impact great numbers of ordinary people who entrust their future wellbeing to their leaders — the folks who set and implement policies that are supposed to meet the long-term needs of the general population.

People are waking up to the fact that demand will overtake supply within a couple of decades, or even sooner — everyone, it appears, except our elected officials, who blithely, in the words of 19th century poet Joaquin Miller, “Sail on! Sail on! And on!” Where the brightest minds of science paint an increasingly chaotic picture, the muddled minds of the political establishment see only the status quo.

Global warming is a fact. Climatologists predict that the Willamette Valley will, one day soon, inherit Sacramento’s dry climate. Icy Arctic blasts will increase in frequency and intensity as the jet stream slows and the air pressure differential between pole and equator decreases. Firs and cedars will give way to sycamores and oaks. Streams will become seasonal, drying up in the summer and flooding in the spring. Aquifers will drop. Agriculture will scramble to adjust.

We owe it to our descendants to shake off our apathy, educate ourselves and start preparing for what’s coming. We must, collectively, put pressure on politicians and bureaucrats who refuse to look past their noses at the freight train bearing down on the planet and its inhabitants.

We the People must grab the reins from the lords of yesterday, the dinosaurs who now dictate our fate. Doing nothing is akin to suicide.

Shakespeare’s words ring like steeple bells: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time, / And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death.”

David Hedges is a resident of Stafford.

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