Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why climate change could wither Santa Barbara agriculture

In the Santa Barbara Independent, Sam Kornell writes a thoughtful, loooong essay about climate impacts on California’s wine growers: For 40 years, Richard Sanford has grown some of Santa Barbara’s most admired pinot noir wine grapes. …In a recent interview with The Independent, Sanford was asked about studies suggesting that the California wine industry may be threatened by climate change. A 2006 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, found that wine production in the state may decline by as much as 80 percent by 2100. Wine grapes, the study’s authors noted, are sensitive to unusually hot and cold temperatures, wind, weeds, and pests—all of which are expected to be intensified by global warming. Though many vintners, particularly in Napa and Sonoma counties, have said they fear that climate change will seriously harm their industry, Sanford was circumspect. “I don’t know that school’s out on what the effects of climate change will be,” he said. “There’s a lot of different speculation, and I don’t think anybody fully knows what’s going to happen.”

Santa Barbara is not one of California’s biggest agricultural producers, but measured against virtually every other part of the country, it’s an ag utopia. In 2007, crop revenue surpassed $1.1 billion—the highest figure ever. Bill Gillette, the county’s agriculture commissioner, conservatively calculated its overall effect on the Santa Barbara’s economy was somewhere in excess of $2.2 billion. That accounts for 10 percent of the total economy. It’s also a major source of tax revenue for the county government, which leans particularly hard on bed taxes supported by the booming wine tourism industry.

…Nevertheless, the data marshaled by the CCSP report suggests that on balance, the overall consequences of climate change on agriculture in Santa Barbara—and California, generally—will be negative. This becomes apparent as you run down the list of top cash crops. Cattle, the county’s seventh biggest moneymaker, are acutely sensitive to drought, which is virtually certain to occur more frequently and for longer periods as the greenhouse effect intensifies. Apart from cattle, the rest of the county’s agriculture is almost entirely given over to horticulture: fruits, flowers, and vegetables. According to the CCSP, horticulture particularly is vulnerable to climate change because such crops tend to be more fragile than cereals such as grain or corn. Bring on a big drought, and fruit and vegetables wither.

…Looming over all of these projected problems, however, is the likelihood that the most devastating potential consequence of climate change will be a sharp reduction in the world’s supply of freshwater—not a good portent for Santa Barbara…..

California wine grapes, shot by Thomas Oldcastle, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

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