The heart of Denmark

oregon climate change
This sign is the only way you know when you’re in Denmark Oregon

The true approach to the heart of Denmark, Oregon is Floras Lake Loop Road – a square U-shaped road surrounded by horses, hayfields, cattle and sheep farms. A long lane punctuated in summer by stands of wild iris arrows west toward Floras Lake from the center of the square U, easing past tree-screened vacation homes. Two get-rich-quick housing subdivisions were once planned to go here, but both failed before any homes were built.

Denmark, Oregon – indeed, the whole Oregon coast – is a place that many believe climate change will mostly spare, at least, comparatively speaking. Sure, scientists say there will be changes, but the damage won’t completely transform Denmark the way it will so many other parts of the country, even other parts of Oregon. Instead, this is the place where an influx of American climate refugees will come seeking refuge from scorching summers, unbearably cold winters, terrible droughts, and above all a new variability and unpredictability. Climate change will turn everything upside-down for people who live by the land.

Oregon estimates its population will just about triple this century, and Oregon isn’t any readier than the rest of the country.

I revisited Denmark recently, and found the same idyllic place I first got to know in 2009, when I went to Denmark and neighboring towns from Bandon to Port Orford for a radio series for Oregon Public Broadcasting about how climate change will affect one small spot in Oregon. The Denmark Project was named after the Oregon town, and the country that hosted the December 2009 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conference.

Climate-watchers saw the COP 15* climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark as the last hope to mobilize the world to action before drastic changes kicked in, but no treaty emerged. The breakdown of talks was illustrated dramatically when Barack Obama discovered a secret superpower summit inside the summit happening between China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The US wasn’t invited, but President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton barged in and demanded to be part of the summit. Nonetheless, the US is still a holdout from the original climate treaty – the 1997 Kyoto treaty – still not ratified by the US Senate.

1997 is the year I came to the climate story, as bureau chief of the newly created Business & Environment Desk for Marketplace Radio. In the 15 years since, I’ve been amazed at all the warnings that have gone unheeded, and now at the sudden pace with which the impacts of climate change are being manifested in the United States and around the world.

Much has been written explaining the science of climate change – how the greenhouse effect works; the consequences of our human footprint on the planet – burning fossil fuels that raise the carbon dioxide level in Earth’s atmosphere and cutting down forests where trees once stored massive amounts of carbon; and the resulting acidification of the oceans which also store carbon dioxide; the melting of ice at the poles and on mountaintops. In short, how we’re heating up our world.

I want instead to write about how climate change will change all the places I’ve lived. Eight states: Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Michigan, where I was born and where I began writing “My Vanishing Hometowns.”

Eight “hometowns” – places I hope will never become unrecognizable.

Eight places I love.

I’m calling it “My Vanishing Hometowns.”

As I write, and travel to my hometowns, I’ll post my thoughts on this blog. I’m especially thankful for the generosity of Island, RACC and the Spring Creek Project.

The Institute of Sustainable Living, Art and Natural Design, is based in Michigan – the state where I was born, and so my first “hometown.” Island provided me with a writing residency to work on the opening chapter of “My Vanishing Hometowns” at the Hill House cabin in Michigan’s north woods in the early winter of 2011.

RACC Regional Arts & Culture CouncilThe Regional Arts & Culture Council serves the three counties that make up Portland: Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington. RACC awarded me a 2012 Artistic Fellowship grant of $5,000 to work on the Oregon chapter of “My Vanishing Hometowns” and to create this virtual chronicle of my travels for the book.

The Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word, a project of Oregon State University, melds “the practical wisdom of the environmental sciences, the clarity of philosophical analysis, and the creative, expressive power of the written word, to find new ways to understand and re-imagine our relation to the natural world.” My partner, James O’Neill and I were awarded a collaborative residency at the Cabin at Shotpouch Creek in Oregon’s Coast Range to write and photograph.

My deep gratitude to all three organizations for their support.

* Technically, Copenhagen was the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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