Climate Change in California: Ready Or Not, It's Here

August 9, 2013 | 4:21 pm
Adrienne Alvord
Former Contributor

 A new State of California report released yesterday verifies what scientists have been telling us for some time—climate change is here, and it is now affecting the state’s water supplies, farm industry, forests, wildlife and public health.

The alarm is being sounded by Cal/EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in a report that compiled 36 indicators of climate change, drawing upon monitoring data from throughout the state and a wide variety of research studies carried out by 51 scientists from the University of California, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other agencies and institution.

No area escapes impacts

The report says categorically that climate change is “an immediate and growing threat”. The indicators highlighted in the report included data for state greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures, and analyzed impacts on California’s physical environment, humans, vegetation, and animals, concluding that climate change is occurring throughout California, from the Pacific Coast to the Central Valley to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Among other findings, the report concluded that:

  • Wcalfire chartarming temperatures have accelerated since the 1970s, with nighttime temperatures increasing much faster than daytime;
  • Changes in precipitation patterns have had the effect of decreasing water supplies even when overall rainfall remains the same;
  • Carbon dioxide levels in coastal waters are harming species and having effects throughout the marine food chain;
  • Over the past century sea levels have risen along the California coast by an average of 7 inches, and levels have risen by 8 inches at the Golden Gate; and
  • Annual acreage burned since 2000 has doubled the rate of the previous 50 years, from less than 300,000 acres to almost 600,000;

As Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott pointed out at a UCS forum in Pasadena on June 28, “Twelve of the 20 most damaging wildfires in California occurred in the last 10 years.” Pimlott said there will never be enough engines and firefighters to put out all the wildfires in the state—not now and not in the next few decades when global warming is expected to get much worse. “We have to learn to be resilient and live with fire,” he said at the UCS forum.

People get it, polluters don’t

The report comes on the heels of a recent survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, which found that the public already gets it—63 percent of the state’s residents said the effects of global warming are already being felt.

One of the most hopeful findings of the report is that “since 2000, despite a 49 percent increase in economic output (as measured by the gross state product or GSP), and a 10 percent increase in population, GHG emissions per $1,000 GSP—also known as emissions intensity—have declined.” And our overall emissions have decreased by more than 7 percent since 2008, two years after California passed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act.

This data demonstrates the false premise of fossil fuel lobbyists who claim we can’t cost-effectively reduce emissions and grow the state’s economy, or that we have to “go slow” so we don’t harm state growth. There is no evidence our low-carbon policies have caused harm to the economy—quite the contrary. If anything, the report shows the urgent need to do much more, and more quickly, to reduce the intensity of impacts in future. Clean energy policies haven’t hurt our economy, but widespread climate impacts certainly will.

The new findings represent a call to action to state leaders to better prepare our state for impacts we are now facing while aggressively staying the course charted by AB 32. They validate our UCS work in California in defending policies designed to reduce global warming emissions while also encouraging preparedness for climate change so our communities can become more resilient to increasingly severe wildfires, rising sea levels and longer summer heat waves.