California is on the front lines of climate change. If last year’s wildfires that devastated Sonoma County weren’t proof enough, check out the massive fires raging across the state this year. And yet the Trump administration is poised to roll back vehicle efficiency standards, including California’s. We’re having a tough time reining in emissions as it is.
As the skeptics are quick to point out, it’s hard to tie any one event to long-term, global climactic change. Fine. It’s also hard to ignore the trends and the evidence in front of one’s face. California for the past few years has suffered through hotter than average weather, drought and more weather extremes, precisely what to expect from climate change.
Hot, dry and windy is the perfect combination for wildfires. It’s not just fire, though. Droughts — and the U.S. Drought Monitor says 86 percent of the Golden State is currently experiencing drought or abnormally dry conditions — are having horrible impacts on the state’s agricultural industry, not to mention creating all sorts of headaches for average Californians.
Meanwhile, sea levels are inching higher. That’s partly due to polar and glacial ice melting and partly to the fact that the oceans are holding a lot of the heat of global warming. Warmer water expands. It’s just physics.
California is in line for some of the worst effects of rising sea levels. One study found that thanks to the way the planet spins, for every foot of seal level rise globally, California’s shores will experience 1.25 feet of local rise. Even under the best-case forecasts, many coastal communities will face severe storm surges and damage. Under the worst case, every community around the San Francisco Bay is in trouble.
Not that California will be the first to experience it. As Slate writer Joshua Keating vividly explained in a piece that ran in Sunday’s Forum section, the tiny island nation of Kiribati could be one of the first under water. The country’s 33 islands in the Pacific between Hawaii and Australia, average less than 6 feet above sea level, and its leaders are making plans to move the entire population of 110,00 people.
Anyone who thinks the world has a refugee crisis now hasn’t seen anything yet.
California, for all its cheering about meeting its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction targets early, has had increased vehicle emissions for the past several years. Cars, trucks and airplanes are the largest contributor to emissions if you don’t count wildfires.
And if the Trump administration has its way, that could get a lot worse. A draft proposal to roll back mileage targets and revoke California’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions would increase oil consumption by 500,000 barrels per day. To put that in perspective, the United States consumes about 20 million barrels per day, so the lower mileage standards would generate a 2.5 percent increase.
That’s precisely the wrong way to go. As individuals, as a state, as a nation and as a global community we need to reduce our emissions to prevent the worst climate change impacts.
Maybe the best hope is with the children, the very people who will have to live in a warmer world. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Trump administration attempt to quash a lawsuit filed by children who want to force the federal government to do something — anything — about climate change.