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Jefferson County to hear from climate change groups

Peninsula Daily News - 1/21/2020

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson CountyBoard of Health plans to hear from several community groups during the next few months before it considers whether it should declare a climate emergency.

County Health Officer Tom Locke on Thursday provided information to the board from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suggested global concerns with climate change, although two residents adamantly opposed.

"This is a movement to reframe climate change as not only a problem but an emergency problem, as something that requires actions sooner rather than later that has very far-reaching impacts some decades down the road," Locke said. "But if those impacts are going to be changed in any way, it requires people treating this very differently now."

The board plans to ask the state Department of Health to provide additional information and to bring in county groups such as Port Townsend High School's Students for Sustainability to learn about the environmental steps they're taking.

Gene Farr of Port Townsend said facts do not support climate change being a health problem and told the board not to spend any taxpayer money based on that claim.

"Climate change has nothing to do with the increased smoke and increased fire we are seeing," he said.

"The number of fires has actually gone down. Acreage has gone up, but that has nothing to do with climate change. That has to do with gross mismanagement."

Farr said increased carbon dioxide in the air is something plants enjoy. He added that carbon dioxide levels millions of years ago were several times atmospheric conditions today.

"It's a lie to claim there's less nutrients due to climate change," Farr said.

Jim Scarantino told board members they need to look at the whole picture.

"Look at the failed predictions as well as predictions that meet the theory that you want to prove," he said.

Locke's presentation was requested last month by Kees Kolff, a Jefferson Healthcare commissioner who servers on the health board.

"What I've heard is the single-most important fact to people who don't believe it's happening is that 99 percent of climate scientists believe that it's happening," Kolff said.

Locke said he appreciates there isn't unanimous agreement.

"The debate on it is a healthy debate, but it should not stifle action when the consequences of inaction are as serious as the problem," he said.

Locke said the CDC materials report a history-changing course — even species-changing, in some people's views.

"The response and concerns are definitely global," he said. "Although the overall change is planetary warming, one of the biggest problems is instability."

That means extremes could go either way, where, in one example, some areas will see flooding and some drought, Locke said.

Board member Michael Dawson, the water quality manager for the county's environmental public health department, said Yale University recently has released county-by-county data.

"Public opinion nationally has shifted quite a bit in the last five years, where 58 percent of survey respondents now are in the two highest categories of concern about climate as an issue overall," Dawson said.

Dawson said there are several reasons why the board of health should consider specific impacts to Jefferson County.

"We live in a county where natural resources are very important," he said.

"Shellfish, ocean acidification and sea-level rise are all potential important topics for us to start thinking and planning as a department."

County commissioner Kate Dean, who serves on the board of health as well as the Climate Action Committee, said the county's latest greenhouse gas inventory is expected to be released in April to coincide with Earth Day.

"There's no technological fix," Locke said. "Things are happening faster than predicted.

"There's a whole series of tipping points, and the complexity of the system makes it impossible to predict."