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Michelle Mehta’s Blog

California: Leading the Fight Against Climate Change

Michelle Mehta

Posted April 5, 2012 in Solving Global Warming

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As the most populated and one of the most diverse states in the U.S., there is a lot at risk in California from climate change.  From the snowcapped peaks in the Sierra Nevada to the farms in the Imperial Valley and the sandy beaches in Southern California, climate change is and will continue to impact life as we know it.  Warmer temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and acidifying oceans present significant challenges to our water supply, flood control systems, agricultural industry, cities and communities. 

As a result of warming temperatures, April snowpack in the Sierra Nevada—a vital source of water in the state—is projected to decline 25 to 40 percent by 2050 and 60 to 80 percent by 2100.  Water from the Colorado River, which already is over allocated in the western U.S., is projected to decline by nearly 9 percent over the next 40 years.  Declining water supplies on top of growing demands for water as population grows will likely increase conflicts between municipal, agricultural, and environmental water uses.

Infrastructure and resources along the coast also are at risk from more severe winter storms, sea level rise, and high tides.  A 100-year coastal flood event following a 4.6 feet rise in sea level would jeopardize nearly half a million people, $100 billion of property, and nearly 4,000 miles of roads and railways. 

California has already experienced the kinds of climate change-related impacts projected only to get worse.  For instance, due to “stubbornly dry conditions” the Department of Water Resources recently reduced its estimate of the amount of water the State Water Project will deliver in 2012, from 60 percent to 50 percent of the requested amount of slightly more than 4 million acre-feet.  Record-setting heat in 2010 caused nearly 40,000 Los Angeles homes and residences to lose electricity and prompted adjustments to train speeds and schedules.

Empty Canal into Pyramid Lake – photo credit flickr user Aquafornia

Fortunately, leaders across this state have recognized these risks and are acting to reduce statewide greenhouse gas pollution and prepare for the impacts of climate change.  As detailed in a new NRDC report released today, California is one of just nine states in the U.S. to develop a comprehensive climate change preparedness plan, making it one of the most engaged states compared to the rest of the nation.  And even among this elite group, our state stands out.  Our state has established statewide greenhouse gas pollution reduction targets and is using a cap-and-trade regulation to limit greenhouse gas pollution from major sources.

Given the amount of greenhouse gas pollution already in the atmosphere and the climate change impacts in store for the state, California is gearing up.  The state released a comprehensive climate adaptation strategy in 2009 and is putting planning into action by factoring climate change into water supply and flood protection plans at the regional and state levels; developing mapping tools to show how climate change might impact local communities; and aggressively pursuing water conservation, efficiency, and recycled water opportunities.  We’re also lucky to have leaders that have convened hearings focusing on the latest climate change science and what the impacts, such as sea level rise and other climate-related extreme events, will mean to jobs and Southern California’s economy, public health, and natural resources.

While these preparedness actions put us ahead of other states, there is still a lot left to do.  Although many state agencies, boards, councils and other entities are working to address climate change, it is crucial that all of these activities be well-coordinated to ensure efficient use of resources.  Local and regional climate change planning efforts also will continue to need technical and financial support and guidance from state agencies.

Californians should be proud of our state’s progress thus far but should also encourage our local, regional, and state officials to keep up the momentum to reduce global warming pollution and better prepare for climate change.

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Comments

WindyApr 5 2012 12:48 PM

I'm sure California will be just as successful in preventing bad weather/climate as they are at preventing earthquakes and wildfires.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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