The dichotomy between grass and desertification provides an insightful representation of California's record-breaking warmest January through August.
MALIBU, CA - It was way in the 90s here today...we just completed California's record-breaking warmest January through August, and September is not letting up. In Del Mar, San Diego's toniest beach town "where the surf meets the turf" it was nearly 100 degrees. And this is not July 4th...it's already September 14th. Welcome to the new normal - Southern California, where previously many towns right onthe beach boasted multimillion dollar manses with no air conditioning -those days are probably over, astemperatures now routinely soar into the high 80s and beyond.
So when is this going to end? Just an aberration perhaps? El Niño's will come and cool things off? Hardly. The New York Times of Sept. 10th featured a demoralizing story headlined "Hopes for a Strong El Nino Fade in California." Key climatologists are quoted saying the anticipated heavy rains expected later this year probably will not materialize. More likely is that the scorching average temperatures and early fire seasons we've experienced throughout the West over the past few years will continue, unabated. Consider a recent in-depth article in Men's Journal, "America is Burning." The story provides data and expert opinions backing up its thesis that climate change, the drought and "reckless development" have turned most of the American West into "a giant tinderbox." Wow. Consider this other supporting data:
• Worldwide, the decade 2000-2010 was the warmest since 1901-1910, this is quantified by Environmental Protection Agency data
• The years 2000-2014 have been the driest in the past 100 years, according to NASA
• According to the EPA, the most significant temperature increases in the United States have occurred in the North, West, and in Alaska
• Washington, Oregon, and California each felt the effects of a top five warm summer
• Since 1998, the contiguous 48 states have experienced seven of the top 10 warmest years on record
Parts of Glendora, California went up in flames as wildfires burned recklessly and without abandon in January of 2014.
Climate change deniers can call this just normal weather patterns if they wish. They can also claim the Industrial Revolution and continuation of modern industry, coupled with worldwide proliferation of the gasoline and diesel engine have nothing to do with it. I am actually not here to debate this. Of course, there are so many benefits to an industrial society and we have certainly enjoyed those over the past 150+ years. Whether climate change is caused by man, or not, is not even the issue at this point. My premise is simple: the idea of waiting until it starts raining again, and temperatures begin cooling off, is not something we can count on. Temperatures, water shortages and other effects of climate change since 2000 may well continue, at least for the foreseeable future. And if they do, we need to be ready, and able, to react and plan our business, industrial and personal lives accordingly.
At this point, it is not about whether or not climate change is caused by man, but rather it is time to take action to save ourselves.
If nothing else, I am glad the media is finally jumping on this bandwagon. Even otherwise intelligent citizens continue to shock me with their ignorance and seeming lack of concern about this phenomenon. "The beach has been great this summer...the water is in the mid-70s. Warmest water in years!" "This past winter was great, so nice and warm, and no rain!" You hear comments like this routinely. As in, Really??? To borrow from John McEnroe at the U.S. Open, "You Can't Be Serious!"
Hopefully, the media's day-late-and-a-dollar-short but still valuable realization that the "real" effects of climate change are upon us will wake these otherwise bright and well-meaning friends and neighbors up to the potentially life-threatening situation we face. We are now officially in trouble, folks.
So what can we do to save ourselves? Only a couple of obvious things. First and foremost, every square inch of available and usable rooftop, parking lot sunshades and empty land should be populated with solar panels. Solar energy has already proven itself, especially in sunny climates like the American West, to be a cost-saving and energy efficient way to capitalize upon the increasing temperatures and more days of sun. Not to mention, reducing our dependence upon foreign oil. We also need to get VERY serious about water conservation. I am so glad to see that even the State of California Department of Transportation is now regularly running messages on freeways imploring drivers to "Save Water - Drought Conditions" and the like. The Department of Water and Power has gone to the extent of informing constituents via voice messages to encourage water conservation. Los Angeles, for example, has implemented "watering days" which assign residences specific days of the week they are permitted to water outdoors based upon their addresses. Even if we could persuade all residents to simply turn off the water while they brush their teeth, the savings would be in the hundreds of millions of gallons.
The aftermath of drought, so long so waterless. Photo by Montree Hanlue.
One other absolutely critical factor is non-partisan politics. I guess I am dreaming here, as even the financial crisis could not bring the two parties together. Perhaps the threat of our children not having a suitable planet to inhabit, deadly storms related to sea level rise, or enough water to drink might be the impetus to change?
Jennifer Schwab is a sustainability expert, environmental designer and consultant. Her column, "My Inner Green" can be found in Huffington Post.