Climate Change Explained
Human Health Smoke

The rapid impact of climate change on our everyday lives is difficult to avoid. Here in Pierce County, we’ve been experiencing a higher frequency of wildfires and flooding events due to increased temperatures caused by climate change. The urgent need to take action is supported by science. Building a climate resilient community begins with shared understanding of climate change, its impacts, and how both human and environmental health will be affected. We must respond immediately to climate change and our actions must be bold.  

The Carbon Cycle

To understand climate change, it is helpful to know about the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle is similar to the water cycle in that the total amount of carbon on our planet does not change, but where the carbon is located in the atmosphere or on earth is constantly changing. Carbon released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere accumulates and lingers for 100’s of years.

Carbon Cycle_v2


Climate Change
Describes the process in which there is a big shift (global) in weather patterns. Through everyday activities such as the burning of fossil fuels (e.g., oil, coal, natural gas), industrialized agricultural practices, and the clearing of forests, humans have released large amounts of heat trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in a short period of time. This creates a thermal blanket in our atmosphere causing global warming. (UW Climate Impacts Group).

Greenhouse Gases (GHG)
A variety of gases that, once released into the atmosphere, trap the sun's heat causing a global greenhouse effect, which is like a heat-trapping blanket. Most GHGs come from the burning of fossil fuels and chemicals used for refrigeration and cooling. Examples of GHGs are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

Climate Resilient Community
One that takes proactive steps to ensure all people are prepared for, recover from and thrive after difficult situations or events associated with our changing climate. Community members that face historic and current inequities often are the most vulnerable and need to be included in creating climate resilient communities.

Carbon Sequestration
Carbon Sequestration is the process of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it long-term in plants, soils and the ocean. Unfortunately, the ocean absorbs a large portion of the carbon dioxide emissions, resulting in ocean water becoming more acidic. While we can’t stop the ocean from absorbing carbon dioxide, we can plant more trees, conserve existing forests and  kelp beds, and improve soil management to help ease the burden on our oceans.

Land Use Changes
A process by which an area of land is converted from one use to another. This includes the alteration of natural and previously undisturbed lands for human purposes such as the development of homes and businesses and the raising of crops and livestock.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Pierce County

Measuring the sources and quantities of emissions in Pierce County provides a baseline for tracking progress and is a first step in meeting GHG reduction goals. The pie chart below represents emissions that are emitted within the geographical boundary of Pierce County. This chart does not include emissions from the things that are made, grown or manufactured outside of Pierce County. Purchased goods and services generate GHG before they reach the people that buy them. 

Primary Sources of GHG emissions generated in Pierce County

Climate Change Impacts in Pierce County

Our atmosphere, land and waterways are all interconnected and impacted by climate change. The rapid release of human generated GHG is causing air and sea temperatures to rise. This results in negative impacts right here at home.

For example, our oceans are absorbing an increasing amount of human generated carbon dioxide (CO2). This leads to ocean acidification which can devastate many aquatic animals, including shellfish in the Salish Sea (Puget Sound).

Click on the numbers on the interactive graphic below to explore the impacts of climate change in Pierce County.

Pierce County's Response to Climate Change
GHG Goal Graphic (8)

Pierce County's proposed Sustainability 2030: Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan calls for a reduction in GHG emissions of 45% below 2015 levels by 2030, Reducing emissions also enhances public health, improves air and water quality, promotes and supports our economy. 

To work towards this goal, Pierce County has identified five focus areas that you can explore in the tabs below.

  1. Buildings
  2. Transportation
  3. Waste
  4. Conservation 
  5. Education


  • Pierce County will expand clean and renewable energy use by transitioning to electric heating in homes, commercial and industrial buildings
  • Pierce County will improve energy efficiency of homes, commercial and industrial buildings
Join Our Efforts

We believe in the importance of recognizing individual efforts within the greater context of government action and systemic change needed to turn the tide on climate change. Start by doing the things that matter to you and allow you to live out your values. This will be different for each of us. The following Pierce County programs and resources can help you in your efforts. 

Alternative/Active Transportation




Reduce Waste

Reduce Waste

Recycle Right

Children Recycle

Reduce Water Pollution

Reuce Water Pollution

Get Involved

Get Involved 1