Climate change impacts already seen in Central Valley

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UCLA climate scientists published a paper in the journal “Nature Climate Today” projecting the effects of climate change on California through the end of the century.

According to the report, our climate will swing more rapidly between dry and wet seasons, producing major flooding in many areas of California, including Stockton and the Central Valley.

The article projects Stockton could end up under 20 to 30 feet of water at some point by the end of the century.

“One of the impacts is that we may get roughly the same amount of precipitation overall but more of it will fall as rain rather than snow,” said Alex Breitler, who was the environment reporter or the Stockton Record for 12 years, before joining Delta College as its Public Information Coordinator. “The problem is that you get the rain and it all comes down at once and there’s nothing you can do with it, and it will immediately go downstream, unlike snow, which will sit in the mountains for a few months before slowly melting over time. It’s easier to control melting runoff from snow than rain … the question becomes … what happens with all that water?” 

A warming atmosphere coupled with warming oceans create more water vapor in the atmosphere, which causes more rainfall.

Fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas are “dirty” fuels and are the major contributors to carbon emissions in our atmosphere, which climate scientists assert are causing warmer oceans and more extreme weather worldwide.

One group trying to reduce carbon emissions and encourage a national change over to clean renewable energy is the bipartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), who are lobbying to pass bill H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, in the House of Representatives. 

The bill’s premise: charge fossil fuel companies a fee for fuel that increases every year, then give the collected money back to American people every year. The amount of the refund would be around $500 per person, per year. 

“In addition to the health issues that come with increased warmth that adversely affect people with asthma, our water level (in the Central Valley) is one of the most affected communities by sea level rise,” said Jim Schardt, co-leader of the Stockton chapter of CCL.  “Also drought – our farmers would be affected. When the temperature does increase it will affect our crops like almonds and others that need cooler temperatures during the year in order for those crops to produce well, so that would adversely affect people, crops and industry.”

We’re already seeing the effects of a changing climate. 

Breitler wrote about the Central Valley high-humidity heat wave of 2006, which killed 25 people locally and thousands of livestock. 

Breitler noted that cows were especially affected.

 “Their complex digestive systems burned like ovens within them; the fans, hoses and misters weren’t enough to save them,” he wrote.

We can’t necessarily look at a major storm or drought and pin a badge on it saying “this was directly caused by climate change.” But a changing climate puts more pieces together to magnify the effects of any weather event.

“Climatologists took a look after that heat wave and determined it was in fact made worse due to climate change. It would have been a horrible heat wave anyway, but the climate aspect made it even worse than it otherwise would have been,” said Breitler. “You can’t look at any of those fatalities and say ‘well, that’s directly related to climate change,’ but you can say that those people died in a heat wave that was worsened by climate change. That’s indisputable as far as the science goes.”