OPINION: Ignoring climate change at state, national level will have local impacts

A front-page story in today’s Post-Record details the troubles one Washougal business has had since a fire ripped through the strip mall it calls home nearly three months ago.

Business slowed way down after the fire, Mike Luepke, owner of Mike’s Tire and Auto, told Post-Record reporter Doug Flanagan last week.

“It was like it was completely done. It was like starting over on day one. It was just like somebody turned my phone off,” Luepke said. “Nobody was calling. My phone used to ring probably 25, 30 times a day.”

And Luepke’s business never even had to close after the fire. Three other business owners in the complex weren’t so lucky. They’ve had to either relocate their businesses or shut down temporarily.

Sadly, this is the normal cycle for businesses impacted by disasters like fire and flooding. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster and another one-fourth fail within one year. The United States Business Administration shows similar data.

The fire that slowed Luepke’s business wasn’t a natural disaster — according to the fire marshal, it originated in a pile of “spontaneously combusting” sheets inside a neighboring laundromat — but the tale of Mike’s Tire and Auto should serve as a red flag in light of what we (should) already know about climate change and its ability to serve up more frequent, more intense natural disasters.

In 2018, the Washington Post reported on a Federal Reserve study showing that “small businesses in the United States struggled with uninsured damage and lost revenue following a record-breaking year of hurricanes and wildfires” in 2017.

“The report paints a worrisome picture for local economies after a year of weather- and climate-related disasters that cost the (U.S.) an estimated $306 billion,” the paper reported, adding 2017 was, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the third-warmest year on record.

Since then, 2019 has set a new record. Last year was the warmest year on record for the world’s oceans — something one of the researchers who studied the oceans’ rising temperatures called “dire news” and a sign of “continued, uninterrupted and accelerating warming rate of the planet Earth.”

The accelerated rate of climate change means we will continue to see stronger storms, more severe flooding and wildfires that swallow entire towns.

The consequences obviously impact more than just small businesses, but something that comes up every single time constituents ask our elected state leaders in the 18th Legislative District what they’re doing to help stem climate change is that the solutions proposed by their Democratic colleagues are too costly, especially for small businesses that rely on greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles to deliver their supplies and goods.

When will these politicians start to realize that the cost of ignoring climate change in the name of “saving taxpayers’ money” is going to cost our small businesses and consumers way more in the long run?

The proof is already out there. A new report by NOAA shows that 14 natural disasters in 2018 cost our country $91 billion.

In its reporting on the NOAA report, NBC News put it this way: “The report’s findings are a sign that the changing climate and increasing numbers of extreme weather events are having a significant economic impact, even as the Trump administration continues to undo Obama-era climate regulations.”

And for anyone concerned about this region’s rapid population increase, take note that climate change will likely have a great impact on how fast cities like Camas and Washougal grow over the next few decades.

According to a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, the U.S. will receive as many as 13 million climate refugees before the end of the century, as residents from hundreds of towns and cities across the globe are forced to relocate due to severe flooding, extreme heat, drought, fires and other disasters.

When it gets too hot in Arizona, when wildfires devastate California, when hurricanes wreck the Gulf Coast, places with more temperate climates — especially the Pacific Northwest — are likely going to be a popular option for these American climate refugees.

In fact, according to an article published in the Guardian in 2018, the “era of climate migration” is already happening in the U.S.

If our elected leaders truly cared about things like stemming rampant growth, keeping housing affordable for the working class and helping small businesses survive, they would be actively searching for ways to fight climate change instead of using tired arguments to avoid solving what is arguably our world’s, nation’s and state’s most pressing problem.

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