A solar farm in California.
Photo: JR/Flickr (CC BY)

Climate in the West

Western states are the laboratory for cutting-edge climate policy—and we’re the lead scientist.

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What's at Stake

Devastating wildfires. Enormous floods. Sweltering, worried communities.

The western United States is no stranger to climate change. In fact, it’s home to some of global warming’s most severe impacts—and they’re only getting worse.

But California, Oregon, and Washington are also home to some of the most progressive climate policies in the world. From cap-and-trade and low-carbon fuel rules, to infrastructure and an evolving water system, western states are demonstrating how to constructively respond to climate change—and how to prevent its worst impacts.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has advocated for climate legislation for decades, at both federal and state levels. We’re fighting for rules that cut carbon equitably, recognizing that policies won’t work if they ignore the communities most affected by climate change.

We’re also focused on the science. That’s what we’re bringing to Sacramento, Salem, Olympia, and the nation: the facts of global warming, the impacts, and the solutions. Not the partisanship.

You can help. Visit our action center or consider donating. This is a fight we all need to join.

Western Impacts

A fire threatening Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.
Photo: Ignacio Peralta/US Forest Service

The science is clear: fossil fuels—burned in our homes, businesses, cars, and trucks—are driving up the planet’s temperatures at an alarming rate.

Nowhere are the impacts more obvious than in the western United States, home to some of the country’s most beautiful land—and most threatened communities.

Droughts and reduced snowpack—part of a wider trend of more extreme weather—are taking their toll on farmers, ecosystems, and urban areas dependent on water.

Groundwater supplies have declined for decades and are critically over-drafted in certain areas, threatening water quality and the livelihoods of local economies.

Wildfires are becoming more frequent, and the fire season is growing longer. The costs and risks are growing along with it.

Increasingly heavy rains are leading to flooding and catastrophic mudslides, and jeopardizing critical infrastructure.

Sea level rise and other coastal impacts—tidal flooding, erosion, ocean acidification—threaten fisheries, infrastructure, and the Pacific way of life.

In the American West, global warming isn’t a faraway, abstract risk: it’s here, it’s observable, and the impacts will only worsen if we don’t act now.

Learn more about climate impacts in the western United States >


A worker on a wind turbine.
Photo: Lance Cheung/Flickr

The western United States is already suffering from climate change—but it’s also a world leader in climate policy and mitigation.

Renewable energy and a modern grid can reliably provide much of the West’s power, reducing carbon emissions from natural gas and coal. Thanks to UCS-backed legislation like California’s SB 32 and SB 350, many western states are already leaders in solar and wind—though more needs doing. Learn more >

Electric vehicles and other advanced technologies can help decarbonize the transportation sector, currently the largest source of western state carbon emissions. UCS is actively fighting for progressive EV policies in the Pacific Northwest, fuel economy standards in California, electrification in the heavy- and light-duty sectors, and more. Learn more >

Climate-smart infrastructure can help ensure that our bridges, dams, and power grids don’t fall victim to the unique stresses of a warmer world. UCS is highlighting these risks for policymakers, community members, and other stakeholders. Learn more >

A new approach to groundwater is urgently needed: only careful measurement and management (and science!) can help ensure we meet growing urban, agricultural, and environmental needs. Learn more >

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