Member Highlight-Pierce County

By Ryan Dicks

Pierce County includes Mt. Rainier, a huge mountain that makes our climate resilience challenges somewhat unique. All of our threats appear to be water related–either we are getting too much of it, not enough of it, or changing the makeup of water through carbon emissions (Ocean Acidification). We know from science that these challenges are just beginning and the flooding, extreme heat, forest fires, and sea level rise will only worsen with time.

Pierce County’s efforts to address climate change started in 2010, when the county launched the Sustainability Program and began working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These efforts have saved the county millions of dollars and reduced waste, while improving our environment and human health. Local governments are learning that reducing emissions is difficult and critical work, yet we must simultaneously prepare for the effects of current climate change impacts.

In 2017, Pierce County finalized its first climate resilience plan after working with internal and external stakeholders. The Pierce County Resilience Plan examines nine key climate change impacts that will affect Pierce County including sea level rise, ocean acidity, increased water temperatures, mountain glaciers and snowpack, extreme heat and wildfire, landslides, flooding, sedimentation, and extreme precipitation.  The resilience plan website is interactive and provides residents with a better understanding of how each climate change impact affects the county. The plan also includes government impacts, priority actions, public health, and a sector analysis. 

Here in Pierce County and across our larger Puget Sound region, we’ve learned much from our early efforts to reduce emissions and to prepare for the increasingly clear impacts of climate change. Perhaps one of the clearest lessons thus far is that this effort will require significant resources, perhaps even more than we’ve imagined in the past. One benchmark of regional significance may best serve to illustrate this point – consider what we’ve done to preserve salmon. Over the last 30 years, local governments have hired numerous staff and invested billions of dollars to improve water quality and habitat for endangered salmon. I would argue from our past experience that an even higher level of commitment needs to be targeted at GHG reduction as well as planning and preparing for climate impacts (which also threaten salmon) to our communities. Pierce County is starting the process of creating a new Sustainability plan that will take us to 2030. In these coming 10 years, the global community will either do enough GHG reduction work or we will set the stage for what could be the worst impacts of climate change later this century. I hope we all do enough to reduce the worst effects of climate change.

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