The heat dome, coming on the heels of an extensive drought in the Western U.S. and Pacific Northwest over the past several weeks, provides a telling example of the unpredictable and dangerous impacts of climate change. As reported in The Guardian, the National Weather Service stated, “This event will likely be one of the most extreme and prolonged heat waves in the recorded history of the inland north-west. Heat will not only threaten the health of residents in the Inland Northwest but will make our region increasingly vulnerable to wildfires and intensify the impacts to our ongoing drought.”
It has been widely reported that the heat wave resulted in several hundred deaths in the U.S. and Canada. It has also impacted businesses, agriculture, infrastructure and wildlife. Many restaurants and other businesses that do not have air conditioning have had to close, roads have buckled from the heat, power cables have melted, and Portland suspended light rail and streetcar service due to melting power cables.
The impact on agriculture and wildlife has also been severe. It has been estimated that more than 1 billion aquatic animals have died in tidal and nontidal waters in British Columbia. According to the Food Institute, area wheat crops in Oregon and Washington had already been negatively impacted by the drought and are likely to be impacted further by the extreme heat, reducing yields. Fruit growers in the Pacific Northwest are also struggling to harvest crops before they are damaged by the extreme temperatures. Farm workers need to begin harvesting before dawn to avoid dangerously high temperatures in the fields.
Although Frederick has been spared from the direct impact of the heat domes and drought in the West and Northwest, these events provide an example of what can be expected as the climate continues to warm.
It also should be noted that, according to a report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, agricultural production in the U.S. is highly centralized, with a few states producing the majority of specific agricultural products. A major portion of the domestic produce in grocery stores can be expected to come from California, Washington and Florida, which account for 78 percent of acres of fruits, tree nuts and berries and 87 percent of sales. These are sobering facts, given that with all the abundance in Frederick County agriculture, less than 5 percent of food consumed by residents is locally grown. Preparing for the future requires a robust local food system.
As shown during the COVID-19 crisis, centralized supply chains for food and other products can cause disruptions for consumers when unexpected events occur. Climate events also have the potential for similar impacts. However, it’s important to realize that, while it’s not known exactly when and where the events will occur, major impacts from climate change are not unexpected and will only increase in frequency and severity. The best time to act on climate change was years ago, the second best time is today.
Karen Cannon, with the Climate Emergency Mobilization Workgroup, mobilizefrederick.org.