The discussion on climate change has pivoted, moving from how to prevent it to how to live with it, to looking at the costs – and even the benefits – of the new normal.
That was the theme of “Safeguarding Idaho’s Economy in a Changing Climate,” a two-day conference put on by a coalition of groups including the Idaho Rural Water Association Nov. 16 and 17 at Boise State University. Attendees included about 250 on-site in Boise, as well as 70 in Moscow, 50 in Pocatello, and 30 in Ashton, plus an unknown number who watched a livestream of the proceedings.
“We wanted to talk about this, not in a doomsday kind of way, but ‘hey, this is coming, how do we deal with it?’” said Kelsey Nunez of Warm Springs Consulting, and a member of the association’s planning committee.
“It isn’t a door opener when you want to talk to legislators about climate change,” said Amy Rene Lientz, director of partnerships, engagement, and technology deployment for the Idaho National Laboratory, who participated in a panel on new business opportunities and solutions for Idaho. “It is a door opener when you talk about the economy.”
While the Northwest isn’t as much at risk from global climate change as regions such as the southeast, climate change could still be expensive. Costs of climate change includethe public health costs of more diseases such as West Nile virus, the larger energy demand required for cooling, and the longer, larger, and more destructive wildfire seasons that have increased the cost of fire protection from $7 million to a 10-year average of $22 to $23 million, said David Groeschl, state forester and deputy director of forestry and fire for the Idaho Department of Lands.
In one example, the increased temperature could make survival more difficult for Idaho’s trout and salmon, which need cold, clear water, warned Kira Finkler, Idaho water and habitat program director for Trout Unlimited. One presenter joked that under existing conditions, Trout Unlimited might have to change its name to Perch Unlimited or Bass Unlimited because those fish are more tolerant of higher temperatures.
Several organizations, such as Idaho Power and the city of Boise, described what they are doing to protect habitat and reduce water temperature through techniques like planting trees on stream banks. But these methods will only go so far – no amount of habitat restoration will help if there isn’t enough water for the streams, the panel noted.
The conference wasn’t at all bad news. In fact, Idaho is in a good position to benefit from climate change, said conference participants. States like California and companies like Microsoft are implementing requirements for suppliers to use renewable energy and to be nearby. Because much of the electricity in Idaho comes from hydropower sources, the state is in a good position to satisfy these requirements, said Kate Gordon, senior advisor at the Paulson Institute and founding executive director of the Risky Business Project. About half of the energy delivered by Idaho Power comes from hydropower, according to the utility.
Idaho should look at exporting renewable energy the way it looks at exporting potatoes, said Todd Haynes, renewable energy project manager for POWER Engineers.
Some of those changes are happening now. Idaho companies such as Clif Bar, HP, and Simplot rattled off a long list of changes they had made to make their businesses more sustainable. For example, a new Simplot factory has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent compared with older factories, said Erik Gonring, Simplot plant sciences industry affairs and sustainability manager, while HP is now using 40 to 70 percent recycled plastic in its 3 billion printer cartridges. That in turn reduces the factory’s carbon footprint by a third and fossil fuel use by half, said David Eichberg, sustainability and social innovation, global initiatives lead from HP.
Climate change also offers opportunities for startups, perhaps in partnership with existing companies such as the Idaho National Laboratory. “Whenever there’s risk, and whenever there’s challenges, there are opportunities,” said panel participant Leif Elgethun, founder of Retrolux and president of the Idaho Clean Energy Association.
Idaho Rural Water Association’s Idaho Climate Summit Steering Committee:
Heather Kimmel, Executive Director, American Lung Association in Idaho
Bas Hargrove, Senior Policy Representative, The Nature Conservancy
Gregg Servheen, Idaho Chapter of the Wildlife Society
Jim Chandler, Idaho Chapter of the American Fisheries Society
David New, Snake River Chapter of the Society of American Foresters
Mark Solomon, Acting Director, Idaho Water Resources Research Institute, University of Idaho
Emily Erickson, Responsible Business Initiative Manager, College of Business & Economics, Boise State University
Stefanie Krantz, Sustainability Coordinator, Nez Perce Tribe Water Resources Division
Steven B. Daley-Laursen, Professor, Department of Natural Resources and Society, University of Idaho, Moscow
Bryant Kuechle, Northwest Area Manager, The Langdon Group
Amber Bieg, Kelsey Nunez and Deb LaSalle, Warm Springs Consulting LLC