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Global environmental change, Climatic changes - Pacific Northwest


Climate change is expected to have significant impacts on the Pacific Northwest’s communities, economy, and natural systems. These impacts – which include reductions in summer water supply, the potential for more winter flooding and forest fires, threats to public health, and damage to coastal infrastructure due to sea level rise – will require changes in how communities evaluate, manage, and mitigate environmental risks.

Despite these challenges, some have suggested that the region may be relatively well off compared to other areas of the U.S. and the world. This has led to growing speculation by the media, bloggers, and the public that “global warming could unleash a deluge of newcomers” (or “climate refugees”) to the Pacific Northwest in coming years.2The question is also gaining the attention of public sector professionals in the region. Planners and managers who engage in long-term planning for transportation, public health, utilities, and other public services want to understand whether population forecasts—an important analytical tool guiding many areas of regional planning—should reflect the possible impacts of climate change on migration flows, and if so, how?

The connection between climate change and migration is the subject of a complex and emerging body of social science research. To help stimulate and inform research, and to provide guidance to decision makers on this issue, researchers at Portland State University and the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group convened experts in climate science, population dynamics, and public sector management to begin addressing the following central question:

  • Do we need to be planning for more growth in Washington and Oregon because of climate change, and if so, what would a systematic framework for developing and updating migration scenarios for use in regional and state population growth and planning forecasts look like?

The symposium—the first of its kind in the region and possibly the first of its kind in the United States—was held on June 24, 2016 at Portland State University.


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Symposium Summary.

Presentations from the "Winds of Charge" symposium were recorded and are available for viewing at:

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