Energy Matters | Climate change and implications for San Juan Islands

How climate change affects us locally

By Chom Greacen

Member of the Islands Energy Coalition

As concentration of carbon dioxide continues to climb and ice caps melt at an alarming rate, we can’t help but wonder how life on Lopez and nearby islands will be affected in the future.

At the Climate Change lecture series held last month at the Lopez Library, Vincent Dauciunas shared research findings from leading institutions in the field with a packed room of around 40 interested Lopez residents.

A former hi-tech Silicon Valley executive and newly elected member of the OPALCO board, Dauciunas delivered an informative presentation of anticipated changes to our region in the face of climate change. He drew on modeling work done by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Climate Impacts Group of University of Washington and more.

The predictions are for drier summers (up to negative 12 millimeters per month) and wetter falls and winters (up to 15-plus millimeters per month) 20 to 60 years from now.

Temperature will increase two to six degrees Fahrenheit. The higher temperature might however lead to more evaporation and therefore more cloud cover.

The combined change in precipitation and temperature will lead to earlier rains and less and earlier snow melt. Water supply will likely be significantly or severely affected in central Washington but not so in western Washington or the San Juan Islands.

In terms of hydropower generation, the mainstay of Washington’s electricity supply, the predicted change will mean an increase in generation in the winter, but a decrease in the summer.

The net change in total output is unclear, due to the uncertainties of regional modeling. However, what’s clear is there will be less snow pack making water flows more concentrated in winter months.

How about impacts on food production?

The Washington Department of Ecology simulated impacts on potatoes, apples and winter wheat yields in eastern Washington locations. On average, the predicted yields on these crops will either see minimal impacts or show a slight increase trend. There are caveats, however. The simulations did not take into account the possible extreme temperatures (frosts and heat waves) and precipitations. Nor were the possible impacts by pests, weeds and invasive species considered.

As for sea level rise, if you are concerned about your property being under water, Dauciunas’s presentation might ease your mind.

The expected rise in sea level happens to match exactly the vertical uplift of the tectonic plate on which our islands sit. This means zero sea level change in 2050 if the model is correct.

Despite the surprisingly good prospects for San Juan Islands predicted by the models (without caveats), Dauciunas still put himself in the “alarmed” category when it comes to concerns about climate change. His concerns were also shared by members of the audience in the discussions that followed his talk.

Other less lucky parts of the world will likely suffer from droughts, floods, pests, diseases and crop failures which may affect us here thanks to the highly integrated nature of our economy.

Dauciunas concluded by urging us to take steps towards self-sufficiency, proposing a “50-50-50 initiative,” cutting energy usage by 50 percent, produce 50 percent of our own energy, and grow 50 percent of our own food within 15 years.

Bold? Maybe.

Fool-hardy? Definitely not.

Important food for thoughts and call for action? Yes.

For more info and presentation download, go to