There's a bit of irony in the title of this blog post -- the cheerful. Yes, I always enjoy chatting with Roger and Kathy White, the friendly owners of the oh-so-charming Camp Sherman store in central Oregon.
But today Kathy and I talked about some uncomfortable subjects -- impacts of the impending Big One earthquake and nasty effects of global warming -- after I finished paying for some essentials of life: wine, peanuts in the shell, newspaper, Camp Sherman t-shirt.
I'd asked her how the winter went in Camp Sherman. My wife and I hadn't visited our Forest Service cabin that we have a 1/4 ownership share in since last fall.
"It was really nice," Kathy told me. "Quite mild." "I can believe it," I said. "When we drove over the pass, it was amazing to see how little snow there was."
I then asked her if she'd ever wondered if the springs that feed the beautiful Metolius River might dry up partially if global warming continues to result in more Cascades precipitation falling as rain rather than snow.
"What if the unknown source of the springs is from snow melt that no longer exists? Couldn't that lead to the Metolius river flow dropping considerably?"
Kathy said that she and her husband had thought about this possibility. It'd be disturbing, for sure.
Here's a photo I took of the upper reaches of the Metolius, not far from the spring-fed headwaters. The river is quite shallow here, less than a foot deep in most places. The logs were put in the river to enhance salmon spawning habitat. Notice the vegetation growing on them now, thanks to the near-constant water level.
So that's one of many "unthinkable" possible consequences of global warming. What once seemed so unlikely as to be almost impossible now has a decent chance of occurring.
In a book I'm reading, "This Idea Must Die," I learned a new word: stationarity. Here's excerpts from the short essay by that name written by geographer Laurence C. Smith.
Stationarity -- the assumption that natural-world phenomena fluctuate with a fixed envelope of statistical uncertainty that doesn't change over time -- is a widely applied scientific concept ready to be retired.
...a growing body of research shows that stationarity is often the exception, not the norm. As new satellite technologies scan the Earth, as more geological records are drilled, and as the instrument records lengthen, they commonly reveal patterns and structures inconsistent with a fixed envelope of random noise.
Instead, there are transitions to various quasi-stable states, each characterized by a different set of physical conditions and associated statistical properties.
...And anthropogenic climate change, induced by our steady ramping-up of greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere, is by definition the opposite of a fixed, stationary process.
Thus climate change is going to bring us new definitions of normal. So-called "hundred-year floods" could start occurring every ten years. Ditto for hundred-year dry spells.
Not a cheery thought.
Neither was the subject Kathy and I also talked out: the Big One earthquake, something I've become more interested in after learning that City officials in Salem, where I live, seem to have lost interest in seismically strengthening our City Hall and Library so they won't fall down when, not if, a super-strong Cascadia subduction zone earthquake hits.
Kathy told me that she'd been to a meeting where earthquake experts talked about how the Redmond airport (fairly close to Camp Sherman) would be the prime place where emergency supplies would be flown into Oregon after a Big One earthquake.
Meaning, every large airport in Western Oregon would be unusable after the expected magnitude 8 or 9 earthquake. These occur every few hundred years in the Pacific Northwest. The last one happened in 1700.
We're due for another huge earthquake.
Could be tomorrow. Could be twenty years from now. But the Big One is coming, for sure. I said that I'd been to a talk where an emergency preparedness planner said that most bridges on i-5 would be unusable. Highways to the Oregon coast could be closed for a year or more, I recall the planner saying.
This isn't exactly akin to an end to stationarity, since Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes have been happening for thousands of years. It isn't like global warming, which is causing a major change in the likelihood of weather events.
But both the prospect of the Metolius River losing a large part of its water source, and Western Oregon being devastated by the Big One earthquake, are examples of catastrophes that seem to most people like they will never happen.
Hey, those things haven't happened in recent history, certainly not in the lifetime of anyone alive today, so what is the chance that they will happen soon? Seemingly... almost zero.
Not true. It isn't wise to base the future on the recent past. Science is our main way of seeing beyond our immediate personal experience to better learn what is coming next, and why.
I told Kathy, "Talking about global warming and the Big One earthquake makes me feel good about being 66, rather than 16, since there's a much better chance that, given my age, I'll die before bad things happen. I worry, though, about our children and grandchildren. What kind of world will they inherit?"
Hopefully one where people did everything they could to prepare for disasters that have been foretold.
Hiding our heads in the sand may make us feel better, but we owe it both to ourselves and future generations to face difficult truths as squarely as possible.