Our Critical Climate: Reflections from the Rogue Basin Climate Summit

“Climate change is a timed test; it’s not like other social problems. It will require all kinds of efforts. We all need to take this on as the single biggest problem we’ve ever stumbled on to. And you in Oregon should have the motivation to, given the beauty of the place you live.” These were the provocative words that opened the Rogue Basin Climate Summit by Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. It was a serious tone that set the stage for what would be two days of considering local climate trends, impacts and most importantly, solutions.

It was only the day prior that I had driven in from Portland, and the region’s dramatic local scenery was fresh in my mind. Despite being a lifelong Oregonian, there was something foreign and almost magical about those last two hours from Eugene to Medford: from the rolling hills with their emerald green pastures to old homesteads scattered across the landscape, and deep green Douglas Fir intertwined with the reds and orange of bigleaf maples. Seeing this part of Oregon with fresh eyes, I was reinspired to protect what is special about our state.

The summit harnessed the expertise of academics and scientists, local farmers, vintners, orchardists, resource managers, environmental justice advocates and community voices to tell the story of how climate change is particularly impacting Rogue Basin communities. Residents spoke extensively about how their daily lives were being affected by emerging climate trends. From the region’s ever diminishing snowpack (a local resource depended upon for summer water supply) to increased temperatures affecting crop yields, attendees saw how climate change creates new and unlikely climate activists. Today’s climate activist may be a farmer, a rancher, a government official working for the water bureau or other natural resource board, or a parent who is thinking often about their children’s future.

Climate impacts are not a new concept to the the Rogue Basin; the area has been experiencing four decades of troubling climate trends. Data from Medford, where the summit took place, reveals that the city has warmed nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century. And like much of the country, 2014 was an especially warm year. Average temperatures for the Medford area were 4 degrees higher than the rising temperature trend line, leading to decreasing snowfall, advancing snowmelt, and reduction in late summer stream flow and water availability. The Rogue Basin is comprised of 3.3 million acres of globally recognized land for its high biodiversity, productive fisheries and fertile soil–all now at risk due to climate change.

In addition to exploring current climate trends and projections, the conference sought to address what we can do to fix and adapt to a changing climate, such as hearing about measures the Ashland community took to voluntarily reduce its summertime water use by 30% during two recent drought years, and how agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation integrate climate change into their strategic planning efforts. Both actions illustrate how climate action is becoming a high priority issue for all.

One speaker, Kendra Matthews, an Alaskan Native and local university student, spoke about the need to consider future generations: “As someone who has lived a significant part of their life in Oregon, I have strong emotional ties to this land.” I can say that as a mom-to-be, I think about the future a lot. I not only want for my daughter to enjoy Oregon’s natural resource heritage, I want for her children and future generations to be able to as well.”

The Rogue Basin Climate Summit drove home how personal climate change is: It’s not just about polar bears in a faraway land we can forget about as we focus on our daily lives; it’s about our lives, here and now, that are being changed forever because of climate changes. One could conclude that it’s unfortunate it has taken these impacts hitting so close to home for us to begin to look for solutions, but I prefer to adopt the more optimistic point of view: How beautiful is it that our consciousness is shifting while we still have time to create a better world?

The Rogue Basin Climate Summit was a great opportunity to consider all that still needs to be done, while celebrating the progress made thus far. Oregon Environmental Council thanks Southern Oregon Climate Action Now for organizing a summit will help all climate activists do even better work. Speaking for myself, this climate activist is now inspired more than ever.

–Devon Downeysmith, Climate Communications & Outreach Manager

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3 Replies to "Our Critical Climate: Reflections from the Rogue Basin Climate Summit"

  • Eric Dittmer
    October 21, 2015 (5:07 am)

    As a member of the planning team for the Southern Oregon Climate Action Now (SOCAN) summit “Our Critical Climate – Trends, Impacts and Solutions” I must say your Reflections article was very gratifying to read. You know the amount of work that it takes to put on this type of conference. It was a year in the making. The result exceeded our wildest expectations. Having participants from around the state such as yourselves only added to the information exchange, energy and renewed determination for action.
    Thank you for coming and for these heartfelt reflections. Eric Dittmer, Professor Emeritus Southern Oregon University. .

    • Devon Downeysmith
      October 22, 2015 (5:50 pm)

      That is very kind — thank you for putting on such a great event!

      Take care, Devon