Have you heard the joke about climate change?

Question: "Is it happening because of our ignorance or our indifference?" Answer: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Haha. Well, in any case it’s a complex conundrum that most agree is happening and likely is going to keep happening for a long time, with sizable consequences for all.

If you stack up the average world temperature by year since the start of the century, you see a steady upward progression, with 16 of the 17 hottest years ever recorded occurring in that span — and the last three years were the hottest of all. So there it is. Pretty hard to argue with.

Climate change is a nice way of saying global warming, the old term for it — but that old term sounded like fait accompli, admitting the Earth is warming. OK, the climate is changing, but, how’s this for a new motto: “Climate change is a matter of degree.” We’ve always had floods, wildfire, droughts and hurricanes, but now they seem longer, bigger, earlier, hotter, deeper and worse.

As former Ashland city Councilor David Chapman said in these interviews, arguing about whether it’s human caused is just another way to avoid the huge elephant in the back seat. It doesn’t matter. It’s happening, so we have to figure out mitigation of the effects.

Another metaphor that’s being bandied about in higher governmental circles, Chapman notes, is that it’s like a giant barge that we want to turn around, but even if we crank the wheel all the way to one side, it turns the tiniest fraction of 1 degree a year. That’s not going to help much, you may say, so why bother? Maybe that is the big question.

On the heels of the disasters in Puerto Rico, Houston and California wine country, we asked Ashlanders how they see climate change affecting their lives.

Haylene Campbell — I believe it (disasters) is due to climate change. I think 40 to 60 years in the future, I’m not sure we are going to have forests up there (on the ridge above Ashland). I’ve lived here 41 years and the summers are definitely hotter. With ocean rise, people are going to have to move inland. Maybe there will be coastal property here in Ashland. Hurricanes are getting stronger because the ocean is getting warmer. Scared? I’m not scared. I’m not going to live my life in fear over what I can’t personally control. I can keep my mouth open and say let’s do something. There’s a lot of denial and it’s in higher places.

Ian Buvit — Hurricanes are happening all the time. I don’t know if it’s necessarily caused by climate change. It’s probably going to be hotter. I worry about my children, in the future times with climate change. It’s hard to say what it will be like in 50 years, but I will be 100 by then. There will be a shift in the population center away from the tropics. It will be a disruption. But humans have migrated away from disasters for hundreds of thousands of years.

Holly Bergquist — There is such a thing as climate change. To some degree, it’s a natural change. We’ve got to change something, even if it's in the neighborhood. It’s probably impacting my health. It’s probably going to cost us a lot more to drive around. They must find ways to tax carbon. In 50 years from now, I’m a little worried, not so much by climate change as how other people need to get along and be kind to one another. I’m scared because of my children. Climate change is similar to the slow death from smoking.

Susan Chapman — I do think climate change has made more hurricanes, fires and warming. It’s now more extreme. When we first started talking about it, it didn’t affect me personally because I thought it was far in the future and we’d be dead then. But it seems to be happening a lot faster. I think it will affect me. We may have to move to Canada (laughs). I have a big garden and I am definitely seeing things ripen earlier. Then you have that hurricane in Ireland. That’s a new one.

David Chapman — We were at a Eugene climate change conference when I was on the (Ashland) City Council. There was a lot of argument about if it’s human caused. That doesn’t matter. It’s happening, so we have to figure out the mitigation of its effects. It’s like a barge. If we stop everything we’re doing wrong, it will keep going for 25 or 50 years with weather being hotter and more erratic. Vegetation and animals will change. We’ll keep on rolling, as we always have. It’s not going to go, bang, stop.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.