Saturday, May 8, 2010

Plan B...California braces for climate change

Ted Greenwald in Wired Science via the Climate Desk: … By the mid-2000s, when the rest of the country was waking up to the challenge of global warming, California was already pursing an aggressive program to assess the likely damage. According to the state energy commission’s climate research, the U.S. west coast faces sea-level rise of 12 to 18 inches by 2050, and as much as nearly six feet by the turn of the century. Precipitation is projected to fall increasingly as water rather than snow, draining into the sea rather than lying in cold storage until the long, dry summers. Higher-than-average temperatures and more frequent extreme weather promise heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods.

The sense of impending crisis sent California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger into action-hero mode. In 2006, he signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, capping carbon emissions statewide throughout all activities and sectors. Then, last December, he stood on Treasure Island — an expanse of landfill in the San Francisco Bay that stands to be inundated by the upwelling of glacial melt — and unveiled the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy, a plan to prepare for what many scientists regard as inevitable changes. “We have the responsibility to have a Plan B just in case we can’t stop the global warming,” he said, apparently missing the document’s emphatic assertion that mitigation (making efforts to minimize the onset of climate change) and adaptation (learning to live with it) are equally necessary and inherently complementary undertakings.

….The strategy document is 200 pages of meticulously footnoted, thoroughly bureaucratic prose that directs state agencies to take climate change into account. Individual chapters are devoted to seven critical sectors: agriculture, biodiversity, coastal resources, energy and transportation, forestry, public health, and water supply and flood protection. The plan outlines the range and severity of potential impacts — eroding coastlines, flooded freeways, extended wildfire seasons, devastating disease outbreaks. The executive summary lists a dozen action items and an appendix of 163 further recommendations.

…The follow-up is already underway, starting with the top-line directive: formation of a task force to establish future priorities. William Reilly, who served as the first President Bush’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, leads the group, which is due to report its recommendations to the governor by summer. Meanwhile, the strategy will be updated every two years. By the time the first biennial review rolls around in late 2011, the short-term goals should be complete and presumably the roadmap to the more politically challenging recommendations will have been sketched in. That is, unless California finds that adapting to the new politics of climate change even harder than responding to the change itself.

The central San Francisco Bay coastline has areas, including the San Francisco International Airport, that will be inundated by a 16-inch sea-level rise (in light blue) and a 55-inch sea-level rise (in dark blue)./San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission

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