Washington copes with worsening climate change

The Nine Mile Fire burned in Okanogan County in 2015. (Gary DeVon / Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune, file)

The Nine Mile Fire burned in Okanogan County in 2015. (Gary DeVon / Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune, file)

From rising sea levels and crop failures to dying forests and fish, our state is struggling.

Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar is set in a disconcertingly familiar future: The post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller follows a small band of astronauts searching for a new home for humanity among the stars as the Earth has become increasingly uninhabitable.

While the mind-bending physics are certainly showstoppers, it’s the scenes of ecological disaster at home that have become more haunting with time. In one iconic scene, a baseball game is interrupted by a massive cloud of sand sweeping across the Midwest, blocking out the sun and turning a small city into an alien landscape.

Interstellar’s terrestrial visuals were seemingly prescient when it came out in October 2014, as it was released the same year wildfires swept across much of Washington state, charring nearly 387,000 acres of land. The following year, more than two and a half times that land would be swallowed by flames, and in the years since, months of summer sunshine have been lost to hazy skies in Seattle as smoke crawled across the Cascades and choked out the sun.

During the 2015 wildfires, the state was also hit by a severe drought that led to hundreds of millions in lost crops. Salmon in Puget Sound struggled to survive in low, hot summer streams and rivers. Keep 2015 in mind — because many climate scientists expect those conditions to become the norm by mid-century.

A warmer climate driven primarily by human-created emissions is changing the way water moves through and across the state in the form of rain, snow and mountain runoff. Melting sea ice will also raise sea level, forcing some coastal communities to relocate. In southwest Washington, too much water could increase floods and could more frequently submerge Interstate 5. Even inland, drought caused by low mountain snow levels and hot temperatures will likely lead to crop failure and more stress on agricultural water systems.

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