Idaho and the Palouse face a host of climate issues both today and in the future. The question, said Kate Gordon, senior adviser at the Paulson Institute, is whether Idaho will capture the economic opportunities the changing climate brings its way.
Local business owners, entrepreneurs and researchers discussed that question Thursday at the two-day Idaho Climate Summit. Several speakers said they are focusing their efforts on wildfire prevention, creek restoration, coldwater replacement and other mitigation techniques to tackle Idaho’s major environmental issues.
Titled “Safeguarding Idaho’s Economy in a Changing Climate,” the statewide summit was held at Boise State University and broadcast live to locations across the state, including the fourth floor of the Idaho Commons at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
“The fact that the energy system up here (in Idaho) is pretty clean is actually a big economic opportunity,” Gordon said in her keynote address from Boise.
Referring to maps showing the effects of global warming on regions of the U.S., Gordon said she had to be honest: The effects of climate change on the Northwest are not as bad as some parts of the country.
But that could be a detriment to the region in the future, Moscow Citizen’s Climate Lobby member and panelist Mary Dupree pointed out during an afternoon breakout panel discussion focused on health and quality of life.
Dupree predicted there will be migrations of people looking to live in the Northwest as the rest of the country deals with climate change, which could include increases in bacterial diseases due to increased heat, impacts to seafood in conjunction with ocean acidification and increased air pollution, she added.
The panelists questioned whether a public health system or an adequate water supply exists that could support that additional population.
“We’re not really as much of an island as we think we are,” Dupree said.
For some speakers, the struggle with tackling the effects of climate change has been using such terminology in the first place.
Steve Pew, environmental health director at the Southeastern Idaho Public Health District, described his struggle using the term “climate change” in southern Idaho and recalled tension he witnessed when a colleague attempted to discuss the topic. Pew said he now uses the term “extreme weather” to describe the environmental issues Idaho faces.
Later, during the health and quality of life panel discussion, panelist Ed Marugg, of the Idaho Department of Health District 2 in Lewiston, said he was the colleague Pew mentioned. Marugg said he has witnessed the same aversion to the topic throughout the state of Idaho.
The comments bothered Dupree, who said the terms have two different meanings.
For Josiah Pinkham, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and the Cultural Resources and Climate Change Task Force, part of the answer Idaho’s environmental issues lies in both bringing more indigenous scientists to the environmental discussion table and in people becoming personally connected with nature.
“One of the biggest dilemmas that humanity faces is awareness of and action on the need for a sensitive relationship with the environment,” Pinkham said.
The summit will conclude today.
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