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What cost climate change?

01.01.70

State team will try to assess the pros and cons

By LISA STIFFLER
P-I REPORTER

How do you put a price tag on global warming?

That's the challenge facing a group of Washington scientists, economists, government leaders and business people who met Thursday in SeaTac. They are part of a $200,000 investigation into the economics of curbing the pollution that causes global warming and into how to respond to its effects, including less water for drinking, irrigation and power production, higher sea levels and less snow in the passes.

The news is not all gloomy. Some folks are interested in the changes as a potential moneymaker.

"Climate change is a bottom-line issue," said Bob Doppelt, a professor at the University of Oregon and the project's leader. "This is not just about the environment or another generation's problem...it's impacting us now. We'd better focus in on that."

The goal is to create a report by this fall that can serve as a guide for governments and businesses planning for a warmer Northwest.

"You've got to recognize that changes are occurring," said Kathleen Drew, executive policy adviser for Gov. Christine Gregoire. The project can help guide decisions by key economic sectors and inform policy choices, she said.

About $100,000 for the project is from the state, the other half from the non-profit Energy Foundation in California. The effort is led by a volunteer steering committee of local economists. A similar, but smaller-scale, effort has been completed in Oregon.

At Thursday's symposium, researchers reviewed the latest in the science of climate change locally and globally.

In the Northwest, scientists expect warmer weather, which could heat salmon-bearing streams to temperatures intolerable to the cold-water fish -- but create conditions favorable to bass and catfish.

Less precipitation will fall as snow, leading to lower stream flows in the summer and the potential for river flooding in the fall. The warmer conditions also increase the amount of forestland likely to catch fire.

Scientists still don't know if there will be more or less precipitation overall.

And by the end of the century, salt water is likely to lap the Seattle shoreline more than 2 1/2 feet higher than today. That's because of two unrelated developments that will contribute to higher sea levels: The polar ice cap is melting, and water expands as it warms. At the same time, because of geological activity, shorelines themselves are sinking.

"I'm just trying to understand what the various experts are studying," said Dave McEntee, director of environment, health and safety for Simpson Investment Co., a division of the timber company.

And he's looking at ways for Simpson to "participate in the solution" for global warming.

In addition to lumber, the company produces renewable fuels made from wood chips and sawdust. It could cash in if a market is created here in which greenhouse gas-producing businesses and governments pay others to compensate for their releases, including carbon dioxide. They could pay Simpson, for example, for its carbon dioxide-absorbing trees, he said.

For others, the global warming project could help them make wise investments. Studies on Eastern Washington agriculture show that climate changes could mean earlier growing seasons, potentially reduced crop quality and less water available for irrigation. That might prompt some farmers to switch to drought-tolerant varieties of crops.

With gloomy forecasts for snowfall, ski resort operators might look at expanding summer activities, such as hiking and biking, said Scott Kaden, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association, a trade group.

They could groom the slopes so they could operate with less snowpack or develop ski runs at higher elevations, he said.

The group also is educating its customers about the cause and effect of global warming, reducing the industry's climate-altering pollution emissions and influencing public policy, Kaden said. "Our industry believes winter is too short as it is."

THE PRICE OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Learn more about the economic effects of global warming in Washington: goto.seattlepi.com/r144

P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler can be reached at 206-448-8042 or lisastiffler@seattlepi.com

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