In the late winter of 1859, Oregon became the 33rd state of the U.S. Today, with 4 million people over 98,000 square miles Oregon is the ninth largest and 27th most populous U.S. state. Home to both the deepest lake and the largest mushroom , it is known for its extremely diverse and famously beautiful terrain. By the 1830s the Oregon Trail had already established a direct route to the Pacific Northwest, a route the U.S. Government encouraged settler colonialists to travel in order to strengthen claims to the territory. White settlers began to arrive in large number in the early 1840s. For most of history, Oregon wasn’t divided by lines on a map. It contained four distinct regions that varied in terrain, climate and resources. Native Americans had been maintaining the landscape for millennia with more than 60 tribes living throughout Oregon before colonization in the 19th century. Nine tribes are federally recognized in the state today.
The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute identified water resources, coastal issues, and forest ecosystems as the three main climate change challenges facing Oregon. Summer drought is expected to increase by 50% by 2050 as the state becomes both warmer and muggier. In June, 2021, forecasts for a heat wave of historic proportions in the Pacific Northwest solidified, with a consensus among meteorologists that the summer of 2021 would rank among the most extreme events the region has ever seen. This turned out to be true as more than 100 people died from the heat. If wildfires captured everyone’s attention in 2020 as more than 10% of Oregon’s citizens had to evacuate, by October 2021 more than 800,000 acres had burned in the state.
Flows in rivers and streams are increasing during late winter and early spring and decreasing during the summer. By 2050, Oregon’s snowpack is expected to melt three to four weeks earlier, which decreases the amount of water flow in the summers. On the coast, Oregon will be facing an additional 6 inches of sea level rise within the next sixteen years. The waters off of the coast are also particularly vulnerable to acidification, one of the oceanic side-effects of excessive carbon-emissions, posing an urgent threat to those ecosystems. This changing climactic suitability, as well as the disturbances like wildfires, drought, insects, and disease, will drastically shift Oregon’s forest landscape.
In 2006, former Governor Kulongoski took action to prepare Oregon for climate-related challenges by creating the Governor’s Climate Change Integration Group. This led to the state’s publishing of the Oregon Climate Change Adaptation Framework in 2010. In the decade since, Oregon has enacted a slate of legislation at both the local and state levels addressing a variety of specific issues. They have already surpassed the Renewable Portfolio Standard set in 2016, establishing a 50% by 2040. By 2017 an Oregon Climate and Health Resilience Plan outlined a set of recommendations for the State’s Public Health Division.
In 2019, more than one half of their generated electricity came from hydroelectric power. Natural gas accounts for about one third, coal’s share was only 4%, with nonhydroelectric renewable resources, including wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal power, providing the rest.
In the spring of 2021 and under orders from Gov. Kate Brown, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality developed a new set of rules that would cap greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and reduce them over time. The proposed Climate Protection Program would cut emissions from suppliers of gasoline, diesel, propane, kerosene and natural gas 80% by 2050. By capping emissions from fuels, it targets the state’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions; cars, trucks and other forms of transportation made up 36% of emissions in 2019. DEQ is taking public comments on the proposed rules through Oct. 25.
In June, 2021, a bill committing electricity providers to deliver 100% clean electricity to Oregon customers by 2040 and prohibiting new or expanded natural gas-fired power plants passed both the House and Senate of the Oregon State Legislative Assembly. When signed into law on July 27, 2021 by Gov. Kate Brown, Oregon became the 8th state (following Hawaii, California, Washington, New Mexico, New York, Maine, Virginia and the District of Columbia) to adopt similar goals to reach 100% clean or renewable energy, according to the NCSL.
Oregon is one of twenty-four states, plus Puerto Rico, participating in the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.