A Perspective on Climate Change

Juliana v. United States  plaintiff Hazel.

Juliana v. United States plaintiff Hazel.

Hazel and her mom.

Hazel and her mom.

Right before I went back to school this year, I took a road trip with my mom through eastern Oregon. My mom wanted to take me out to see a part of my state that I’ve never been to before. I’ve almost always stayed exclusively on the western side of the Cascades. On this trip, we went to the Jefferson Wilderness Area, and backpacked at Pamelia Lake. We drove up to Timberline Lodge and stayed in the old lodge for two nights. We went down to Hood River and stayed with a college friend of my mom’s and spent time with my cousin. We visited Joseph, Oregon and stayed at a really cool hotel. From there we were able to go on the famous Wallowa Lake Tram, that takes visitors to the top of Mount Howard. We spent a night in Dayville so that we could see Sheep’s Rock and the Painted Hills. In some ways, while I was journeying through my home state, I was also journeying through history and time. 

The Painted Hills are a visual representation of a naturally changing climate over the past tens of millions of years. They are these beautiful hills and when you look at them, you can clearly see these dramatic orange, red, and tan stripes in the landscape. The National Park Service website explains: “Distinguished by varied stripes of red, tan, orange, and black, this area preserves a sequence of past climate change.” The Painted Hills used to be a bit wetland marsh, way back when. You can see a bunch of fossils because of the marshy climate. Because it’s protected land, a lot of the fossils are still there. It’s really gorgeous. 

The Painted Hill in Oregon.

The Painted Hill in Oregon.

It was interesting to see visibly in nature with my own eyes what climate change at a natural pace should look like. Right now we don’t have that. Right now we have this really rapid and unstable climate situation with no end in sight. Because of human-caused climate change and the damage we’ve done to our planet, we have an increased spike in temperatures that doesn’t have a down curve as long as we keep burning fossil fuels. 

On the one hand, it made me feel so tiny, like I was an ant among these huge hills. It made me feel insignificant, like the world will go on no matter what. But at the same time it made me realize how tragic it is that humankind is having such a massive effect on nature. Life is so much bigger than me, but how is my species screwing it up so much and so quickly? It feels so selfish and unfair. 

Human-caused climate change is a huge part of my life as a plaintiff on Juliana v. United States, and it’s such a terrible thing right now. But here I was standing right in front of natural climate change, a kind of climate change that is healthy and normal for our planet. Looking back on it now, it’s frustrating that climate deniers will use history like this to say that climate change is natural and has always occurred. What I saw in the Painted Hills is a different kind of climate change than we’re seeing right now. Over thousands and millions of years, Earth’s climate naturally changed, and always because of changing CO2 levels in the atmosphere. There is undisputed scientific proof of that. What humans are going, and our governments are supporting is unprecedented in human history- a rapid, aggressive, pumping of CO2 into our atmosphere at a rate that threatens the lives of so many species including ours.


Caitlin Howard