California’s New Views on Climate Change

Published on August 3rd, 2012

Last month, I highlighted a study about how climate change would impact the Los Angeles region, noting the report’s tone of inevitability and references to the need to develop “climate resiliency,” or to “just adapt.”

On the heels of that report is a look at all of California, entitled “Our Changing Climate 2012: Vulnerability & Adaptation to the Increasing Risks from Climate Change in California, a Summary Report on the Third Assessment from the California Climate Change Center.” It too takes the view of inevitability and focuses on adaptation.

California’s Secretary for Natural Resources, John Laird, said, “Significant increases in wildfires, floods, severe storms, drought and heat waves are clear evidence that climate change is happening now. California is stepping up to lead the way in preparing for – and adapting to – this change.” (My emphasis.)

I have been – and continue to be – very critical of many of California’s policy choices. But, I will applaud state government for continuing to put resources and real science behind assessing the impacts of climate change and trying to plan for those impacts. According to the summary, the research behind the Third Assessment explored “the varied effects of emissions scenarios, population growth, and exposure at the wildland-urban interface.”

That said, while one reference did call out population growth as a major factor in the risk of more wildfires, I did not see in the Summary Report any real weight given to the need to minimize human population growth in the state as a way to mitigate for the onslaught of negative repercussions on California from climate change.

Working towards a sustainable population must be part of any plan or discussion on mitigating climate change. California currently is not in a state of sustainability. In light of that, would any reasonable person believe we can achieve sustainability in the face of both continuing to significantly grow our human population and trying to mitigate for dramatic climate change? I think the answer is a very definitive “No.”

San Francisco was studied in particular detail, and it was noted that government at the local levels will “face considerable barriers to adaptation.” There are institutional, attitudinal and governance issues that will be barriers, as well as economic hurdles. As difficult as change is, we will be stretched enough planning for what’s ahead, but it will be impossible without addressing population growth in the state.

While the Summary tries to wrap on a positive note, talking about “Our Resilient Future,” the future that’s coming into view from the various studies looks grim. Note this comment, “The latest climate science makes clear that state, national and global efforts to mitigate climate change must be accelerated to limit global warming to levels that do not endanger basic life-support systems and human well-being.”

That sounds like a gargantuan task.

Add to these recent L.A. and overall California studies the new views of Berkeley’s Professor Robert Muller, and the facts seem to be lining up pretty clearly that there are some real challenges ahead. It’s clear we must get population growth into the discussion about California’s future.

Find all the research from the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission used in the Third Assessment study here.

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