Can you see anything positive about this?

Posted on Thursday, May 5th, 2016 by Ann Linnea

This is the most common question I am being asked once people learn I attended a Sea Level Rise conference in Seattle sponsored by the Tulalip Tribe, the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, NOAA, EPA, USGS, and several other Puget Sound agencies. It is an impressive list of sponsors. One hundred fifty people gathered at the Mountaineers Building on the shore of Lake Washington on April 26 and 27, 2016. I served as scribe for the scientific presentations on day #1 and assisted at the afternoon Open Space sessions both days.

Ann scribing at Sea Level Rise conference

Ann scribing at Sea Level Rise conference

The facts are indisputable. Our Puget Sound region faces increased frequency of severe storms, melting glaciers, sea level rise, warmer winters, and extreme alteration of our shorelines. This is documented in a November 2015 University of Washington Climate Impacts Group State of Knowledge report for Puget Sound:

Don’t stop reading, please. What was different about this conference was the caliber of interaction between all parties—local government officials, scientists, agency personnel and tribe members.

Terry Williams, Tulalip tribal leader and conference organizer, opened with these words, “Our intent in this conference is to look at all the issues together/to gather information that is usable and workable for all.” He introduced a tribal elder and we all rose for the opening prayer.

Terry Williams, center, Conference organizer and Tulalip tribe leader

Terry Williams, center, Conference organizer and Tulalip tribe leader

Format for each of the two days was: Power Point presentations by experts in the morning, Open Space sessions in the afternoon inspired by the morning presentations. “Experts” included scientists, tribal elders, county officials, and case study reports.

Opening keynote presenter Dr. Philip Mote, regional climate change leader from Oregon State University, said Native Americans understand consequences in a spiritual way and he understands them in a quantitative way and “both are important”. Mote looked at historical trends in sea level rise and then presented graphs for sea level rise for C02 levels if the Paris climate accord of Nov. 2015 is implemented to C02 levels if no changes are made. He carefully outlined the components of global sea level rise: thermal expansion (absorption of heat by the ocean), glacier melt, Greenland melt, and Antarctica melt and explained the biggest unknown is the irregular melting of the uneven Antarctica ice sheet. He carefully documented that the main prediction is for seas to rise about an inch a decade with much variability locally depending on how we control C02 levels and the always variable shifting of plate tectonics. In the final analysis, he stated that sea level rise for the rest of this century in Puget Sound is likely to be about three feet.

Open Space small group session of county employees, university professors, and tribal leaders talking about Dr. Mote’s talk and how sea level rise will affect them in their places of work

Open Space small group session of county employees, university professors, agency personnel and tribal leaders talking about Dr. Mote’s talk and how sea level rise will affect them in their places of work

Mark Labhart, county commissioner from Tillamook County, Oregon, used the tiny coastal community of Neskowin as an example of how rules and regulations work best when they come from “the bottom up”. He explained that the community was seeing how many bluff view properties were precariously perched and vulnerable to increasing numbers of slides. Citizens approached their county officials and pushed for the county to draft a “coastal erosion adaptation plan” that requires, any new structure to be set back at a location representing 50 times the annual erosion rate, plus 20 feet.

Another Open space session at the conference which was forming working groups for post conference connection

Another Open space session at the conference which was forming working groups for post conference connection

A representative of the Jamestown S’Kallam tribe on the Olympic Peninsula gave detailed information on how they are working with predicted sea level rise and storm surges in their master development plan. U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dr. Eric Grossman documented the March 10, 2016 storm in Puget Sound as creating a new definition of the 100-year storm, something they are seeing more and more frequently. He is working to help create a coastal storm predicting system (CoSMoS) that incorporates tides, atmospheric pressure, wave height, winds, stream flow, and storm surge barometer readings so that there might be a 48-hour warning system for these big storms which cause extensive coastal flooding, landslides, road destruction, and property devastation.

My abstract for day one of the April conference was a 4200 word, 12-page document. My greatest excitement is that people are talking to one another about this. Really skilled people are working on our behalf to figure this out. I invite each of you to pay attention to climate change information. Ask what your community leaders and scientists are doing about this.

As Larry Campbell, Tribal Elder from the Swinomish Tribe said in his address to the conference, “When climate change started hitting the news, our people decided not to get into the argument about whether or not it is happening. We focused instead on how to mitigate what is coming because we noticed 100-year storms happening every 5 or 10 years.” Traditional native blankets were presented to each of the presenting scientists at the end of the conference.

Larry Campbell, Swinomish tribal elder, addressing the whole conference

Larry Campbell, Swinomish tribal elder, addressing the whole conference

Change has always been the norm on earth—change of seasons, change of day length, change in weather, change in tides, etc. To live consciously on this planet requires being alert to changes, planning for them as best we can, and practicing preparedness.


Rainbow at the end of a storm

Rainbow at the end of a storm on Puget Sound

6 responses to “Can you see anything positive about this?”

  1. Katharine says:

    Right now, we in Alberta are witnessing-living with an iteration of climate change. Short mild winter with little moisture or snow pack. Spring blossoming coming on a month early. Summer like temperatures. Last summer a drought in much of the province. Fall and now spring, little rain leaving us in a province wide fire ban as Fort McMurray burns and all residents have been evacuated. Your closing paragraph resonates deeply, Ann. Thank you.

  2. Katharine says:

    PS – There but for the grace of God…I find myself saying many times these past days.

  3. Thank you for this summary of what sounds like an amazing event! Speaking as someone who is aware of climate changes (living near the Eastern/Atlantic seacoast, it’s hard not to be), but not connected at all to groups like this, I breathe a huge sigh of relief that conversations like this are happening. Thank you, Ann, for being there and for reporting to all of us in such a realistic, yet inspirational, way!

  4. Harriet Platts says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this experience. I joined the Interfaith Climate Action Group, a collaboration between members of Seattle First Baptist and Be Alef Meditative Center, this past January. I’m learning so much about what’s happening right here in the PNW. I continue to nurture my urban questing practice, a practice of knowing where you are, knowing who’s with you, and being where you are. I wonder if after you finish with the upcoming quest, you might be open to meeting in person for a coffee/tea/walk? I’m traveling up your way from time to time to work at Skyroot Farm near Clinton. I’d love to reconnect if you have the time.

  5. J Nelson says:

    A balanced, philosophical analysis of the 97% consensus…..

  6. Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Ann: I greatly appreciate this update on your participation in the Sea Level Rise conference. There seems like so much work to do to raise awareness about the seriousness of climate change and our need to take action. I was also heartened to learn that Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was recently named to the top ten of Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s greatest leaders. My hope is that there is a shifting of consciousness happening around the world that will help us humans figure out how to reduce the harm we are doing to the earth. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to educate and take meaningful action.

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