Climate Change Impacts To Our Surf and Turf

March 12, 2013 | 3:05 pm
Laura Wisland
Former Contributor

Earlier this year, the United States Global Change Research Program released its draft of the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA), which consolidates our current understanding of climate change and its impacts on states and regions across the country. The report is an impressive summary of what’s happening to our planet as we break temperature records that date back as far as the Holocene.

To disseminate the abundance of critical information in the report and encourage public comment, accepted until April 12, UCS hosted five webinars that you can watch online. The first was an overarching description of the drafting process and top-line takeaways on a national level; the other four focused on regional impacts to the East Coast, Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and Pacific Coast/California. The Pacific Coast/California webinar, held on March 6, alarmed me because of the evidence presented to underscore the climate change threats to two of California’s cornerstone industries: agriculture and aquaculture.

California peaches at risk?

Warmer temperatures will make peach trees more vulnerable to frost damage. Image: Steve Adams

In 2011, California’s $43.5 billion agriculture industry produced more than 400 agricultural commodities and nearly half of the U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables, and nuts. California is the top domestic producer of more than 70 agricultural products, many of which will be adversely impacted by the changing temperatures and water scarcity that climate change is expected to exacerbate.

The draft NCA chapter on agriculture reports that climate change has the potential to both positively and negatively impact the patterns and productivity of crops, livestock, and fishery systems at every scale — local, national, global. This will alter food supplies and create food security challenges. Two of my favorite California-grown crops, peaches and walnuts, require hundreds of hours in the cold to properly develop. Warmer winters will cause these plants to bloom earlier, increasing their risk of frost damage, which could lead to large losses for farmers.

Where are my oysters?

California’s aquaculture and fisheries are at risk. The draft NCA generally concludes that as our oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, ocean water will become warmer and more acidic. Both of these impacts will cause significant habitat loss, particularly for Arctic and coral reef ecosystems, which will change the abundance, productivity, and distribution of many marine species.

What does this mean for California? Well, potentially less oysters for starters. Ocean acidification makes it more difficult for oysters to form shells in the first place, and the acid is corrosive to young shellfish raised in aquaculture facilities. Climate change will create winners and losers to our marine ecosystem, and much of the magnitude of these impacts are still unknown. Explore and comment on the detailed findings on oceans and marine resources in this section of the draft NCA.

What can we do about it?

Climate change is taking its toll on our planet and it’s scary. That does not mean we should pretend it doesn’t exist, or do nothing because the issue seems too huge to take on. The reality is that every single one of us can do something about climate change.

UCS campaigns to halve our oil use and increase our reliance on clean energy are intended to tackle some of the biggest contributors of climate change at the federal and state policy levels. But, even if you are not a policy wonk, you can make choices to use less electricity, turn down your thermostat, and walk or bike instead of drive. If you don’t know where to start, check out the Cooler Smarter calculator for some tips on how you can lower your carbon footprint by 20 percent in 20 days.