How California Is Taking Climate Change Seriously

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California, the most populous state in the Union, takes climate change seriously. Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a map of what climate change might do to California. The California Energy Commission and Google.org paid the Stockholm Environment Institute to develop maps with Google Earth so Californians can see what the possible impacts of climate change might be, and how the state will need to adapt.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also released a video last week in which he argued that reducing California’s carbon dioxide levels is not enough. “We must also be prepared for some continued climate change, which is now inevitable,” he said.

Sea level rise, decreased snow pack, and more wildfires likely in California’s future

Google Earth add-ons furthered illustrated what could happen throughout the century as a result of climate change. One of the changes projected is a decrease of 20 to 40 percent of the Sierra Nevada Mountains snowpack by 2100. Decreases in the snowpack would impact the state’s water supply and cause flooding. Southern California receives about 60 percent of its water from the Sierra snowpack.

Another projected change California may face is more wildfires. Already, wildfires have increased in California in recent years, according to a report by the University of California Merced. The report attributes the increase of wildfires to warmer spring and summer temperatures, less rainfall, decreased snowpack, earlier spring melt, and longer, drier summers in some areas. “These are trends that are projected to continue under plausible climate change scenarios.” the report stated.

It is possible that climate change could cause sea level rises of up to 60 inches, which would put the San Francisco International Airport under water. An interactive Pacific Institute (PI) map shows areas where wetlands may migrate by 2100, areas at risk from coastal flooding, and areas at risk from erosion by 2100 with a 1.4 meter sea-level rise. According to the map, important coastal infrastructure would be affected, including schools, health care facilities, police and fire stations, waste water treatment facilities, and Environment Protection Agency (EPA) regulated sites. A report by PI estimates that 480,000 Californians in coastal areas could be affected by sea level rise, and almost $100 billion in property damaged “if no adaptation actions are taken.”

California’s climate adaptation strategy

In November 2008, Schwarzenegger signed an executive order into law that calls on state agencies to develop an adaptation strategy for California. Released to the public last week, the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy listed four things the state must do in order to cope with climate change:

  • Promote comprehensive state agency adaptation planning
  • Integrate land use planning and climate adaptation planning
  • Improve emergency preparedness and response capacity for climate change impacts
  • Expand the state’s climate change research and science programs, and expand public outreach of research to policy-makers and the general public
Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.