While much of the information on climate change comes in the form of scientific reports and predictions, Southern Oregon Climate Action Now has produced a film that gets much more personal, with Rogue Valley residents talking about how they see their world morphing in new and disturbing ways.
Called “Voices of the Valley: Stories of How Climate Change is Affecting Our Lives,” the film will premiere at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Medford library and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, at the Ashland library. Accompanying displays of personal comments are posted at the libraries through Dec. 9.
Most Rogue Valley residents can live and work indoors during smoke-infested summers, but an interview with a Latino farmworker family shows that some must suffer head-on, with profound impacts on health and income.
“It’s hotter with more smoke than when we got here seven years ago,” says Maricela Ruelas, who works in area vineyards. “It goes like this: There’s no rain, they plant, then it rains a lot and ruins the crops and we can’t work. There’s not much we can do about it, not even the bosses. Climate change is here. It wasn’t like this before. I can’t change it. I don’t have a magic wand.”
Ruelas attributes much of climate change to gas-guzzling cars.
“But having a car here is not a luxury," she says. "It’s a necessity. If we need a tomato, we hop in the car and go get one.”
Juan Escareno says he and co-workers go into the fields with smoke masks on, but still, “Our eyes water. It’s hard to work like that. We can’t work an eight-hour day and that affects us economically.”
Ruelas adds, “Breathing is hard on my throat. My head hurts. I have to go home. When it’s hot, it’s extremely hot and when it’s cold, it’s extremely cold. Climate change is hurting us a lot and I’m worried about our children’s health.”
Dan Bish, owner of the Plant Oregon nursery in Talent, says warming is forcing his family to change what they grow and sell. It used to be plants that would thrive in Portland, but now it’s more heat-adapted plants and trees from California.
Bish says snowpack has dropped and they’re dealing with increasing numbers of pine beetles, which kill trees. With less water, they’ve stopped growing many “softer and more delicate” native plants.
“So many people have not noticed the problem," Bish says. "It’s heart-wrenching … . I can’t believe we knew about this problem for so long and ignored it … . Here we have ODOT spending $100 million for new interchanges here and think how much rapid transit that would pay for, but there’s still no train.”
At their organic, 445-acre vegetable and goat farm near the Cascade crest, Dr. Lanita Witt and Suzanne Willow note they had many sub-zero nights (up to minus-18 degrees) 20 years ago, when they arrived, but that's become a thing of the past. In addition, they say, many migrating bird species, once common at their 3,600-foot-elevation ranch, have abandoned the valley and moved to new habitats.
Ashland Middle School teacher Jen Craugh teaches a state-required climate change course that instructs students to turn off electrical gadgets when possible, become involved in advocating for the environment and face the reality of what’s happening. At least one student reports being depressed and scared by the information, enough to stay home.
Producer Claudia Alick of Oregon Shakespeare Festival notes the huge financial impact of the festival's outdoor theater closures during smoke. OSF is touching more and more on the subject in their productions, she says.
“Something very real is happening,” says OSF Director Alison Carey, “and we can do something about it.”
Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director, points to scientific forecasts and the effects on everyday life: more severe wildfires and smoke, more particulate pollution, people forced to spend more time inside, with less exercise and less contact with nature.
West Nile virus and the arrival of the zika virus in the U.S. are signs of climate change, experts say. Heat changes of only a few degrees and the accompanying decrease in precipitation to the south can push new disease-carrying insects and new animal species into the region. There will be more drought.
“We are facing some real existential moments for our planet,” Shames says.
The 77-minute video, narrated by Liz Olson, has many shots of lovely area rivers, hills and trails, as well as shots of smoky skies from wildfires. Producers hope to air the film on public television, in schools, on the internet and during events such as Earth Day. They plan to enter it in the Ashland Independent Film Festival.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Nov. 27: Story updated to: correct the name Southern Oregon Climate Action Now; the name of the film's narrator; to remove an incorrect reference to Juan Escareno as Maricela Ruelas' husband (they are not in a personal relationship of any kind); and remove a characterization of Willow-Witt Ranch observers' comments about animals moving north (they believe they're moving to different altitudes in response to a changing climate)).