Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dire scenarios for California

Sacramento Bee: Global warming is likely to take a greater toll on California than previously believed unless strong measures are taken to combat it, a state panel was told Wednesday. The potential impacts – according to a flurry of new scientific studies – include major property damage along the coast from rising sea levels, worsening drought, widespread crop damage, increasing wildfires and a diminished Sierra Nevada snowpack. The gloomy scenarios were presented to the Climate Action Team, a group of state officials established to monitor global warming and help the state meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

"These reports confirm that the consequences of climate change will be in the billions of dollars, and it will cost significantly less to combat climate change than it does to maintain a business-as-usual approach," said Linda Adams, the California Environmental Protection Agency secretary, who chaired the meeting. The findings, presented by scientists and state officials, are expected to be published later this month in a report to the governor and the Legislature. They are more exhaustive – and more dire – than those contained in the first Climate Action Team report in 2006.

"We are getting much more detailed information that puts the hair on the back of my neck up," said panel member Tony Brunello, deputy secretary for climate change at the California Resources Agency. "It's going to be a brave new world."

Among other things, panel members heard about potential havoc on the coast associated with a sea level rise of 55 inches, which some climate models forecast could occur by the end of the century. Up to now, sea level has risen nearly 8 inches over the past century at the Golden Gate Bridge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "There is $100 billion in infrastructure at risk and 500,000 people who currently live in areas that are at risk," said Peter Gleick, president of of the Pacific Institute in Oakland and co- author of the report. Wastewater treatment plants, schools, fire stations, railroads, power plants, wetlands – all are threatened with inundation, the report said.

…Daniel Cayan, a climate researcher with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, said the new studies are the most thorough yet presented to the state climate team. "We've gone deeper and more broadly, so there is more ground covered," he said. But he also cautioned that the projections are not predictions….

Alfred Bierstadt's "California Coast"

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