California prepares for harsh realities of changing climate
By: Dana Hull
Silicon Valley Mercury News
Climate change is real and unfolding, and the outlook for California is bleak, according to new state-sponsored studies.
Released Tuesday, the studies warn that California can expect more scorching heat waves, severe wildfires and strain on the electric grid as the Earth warms and sea levels rise along the state's 1,100-mile long coast.
Higher temperatures in the coming decade mean that many more of the state's 37 million people will depend on air conditioning -- increasing demand for electricity by up to 1 gigawatt during hot summer months. One gigawatt is roughly the size of two coal-fired power plants and is enough energy to power 750,000 homes.
"The demand for electricity will increase as households operate existing air conditioners more frequently, and in many regions will install air conditioners where there currently are few," says a report on residential electricity demand by Max Auffhammer of UC Berleley. The study found that inland ZIP codes with a higher share of low-income and Latino residents are likely to experience larger increases in electricity consumption."
The California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission jointly released the series of peer-reviewed scientific studies, titled "Our Changing Climate 2012," to help the state prepare for and adapt to the changes, many of which are already underway.
California is experiencing more rain and less snow, and the snow that does fall in the Sierra Nevada is melting sooner in the spring. California currently gets about 15 percent of its electricity from hydropower, but hydropower generation is declining due to reduced snow pack, earlier runoff and higher rates of evaporation
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta helps provide fresh water to two-thirds of the state's residents, but rising sea levels are putting pressure on the Delta's system of earthen levees. One of the studies found that the entire Delta region may be sinking, which may cause levees to fall below safety design thresholds as early as 2050.
More than 25 research teams from the University of California and other academic institutions produced the 34 studies on topics ranging from the impact of storms and rising seas on Bay Area airports and the Port of Oakland to vulnerability of the agriculture industry in Fresno County and long-term wildfire risk.
"We accept that cigarette smoking causes cancer, and we accept that HIV causes AIDS," Ken Alex, a senior policy adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, said at a morning news conference in Mather. "We are not in the same place with climate change. ... Here in California, we do make policy decisions based on the science. Governor Brown actually reads the science, and he takes it very seriously. I know at a deeply personal level that he wants to do something about climate change, and he wants to see California take a leadership role. This set of reports does not paint a rosy picture."
Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said firefighters know the impacts of climate change from fighting more frequent and intense wildfires on the ground.
"These are not changes we're talking about in the future -- these changes are occurring now," said Pimlott. "We're already seeing longer fire seasons -- on average, two months longer in many areas of the state. In Southern California, we're seeing fire seasons that can last year round, even in what are usually the wet months of January and February."
Pimlott said 11 of the state's 20 largest most destructive fires have occurred since 2002.
"We're seeing a rapid increase in the number of large, damaging fires," he said. "Something is changing. ...We need to get ahead of the fires before they occur. Public education is key."
Electric transmission corridors in the state, including the line that brings hydropower from the Pacific Northwest into California, also are vulnerable to wildfires.
Nationally, the debate on climate change shifted last weekend when Richard Muller, who had been a leading skeptic of global warming, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times concluding that global warming is real and that "Humans are almost entirely the cause." Muller, a physics professor at UC Berkeley, now characterizes himself as a "converted skeptic."
Published 1 year, 4 months ago under Science