Preparing to Face Down the Future

California readies plan for adapting to effects of global warming

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Recently, some global warming skeptics have used a series of hacked emails to cast aspersions on the scientific consensus on man-made global warming. The hope, perhaps, is to gain support for a delusion that thrives in their fertile imaginations: that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by a clandestine network of global conspirators. A number of reputable experts have thankfully stepped up to put the conspiracy theorists back in their place.

And back in reality, some pragmatists are moving forward with plans to adapt to the changes that global warming, very real indeed, will inevitably bring our way.

The California Natural Resources Agency just released the "2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy," which examines likely impacts on the Golden State from global warming, and how best to mitigate the damage. According to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who authorized the strategy in an executive order one year ago, California is the first state to officially adopt an adaptation strategy.

The forecast isn’t pretty: sea levels and temperatures will rise, pressure on the state’s water supplies will increase, wildfires will start earlier and burn longer, to list just a few of the predicted consequences. These are daunting additional challenges for a state already mired in them, but as a California resident, I’m glad efforts are being made to consider how to reduce California’s vulnerability to global warming. (Indeed, adaptation is generally starting to get the attention it deserves and will feature prominently in the international climate negotiations that start in Copenhagen, Denmark next week.)

Perhaps most compelling is the argument that delay or inaction will inevitably lead to greater costs to the state. Citing a 2008 report by UC Berkeley and a non-profit organization, the strategy says that "if the state were to take no action to reduce or minimize expected impacts from future climate change…damages across sectors would result in ‘tens of billions of dollars per year in direct costs’ and ‘expose trillions of dollars of assets to collateral risk.’"

This same argument was made by the International Energy Agency in its 2009 World Energy Outlook, which projected that every year of delay beyond 2010 would add an additional $500 billion to the international cost of combating global warming. In other words, the price tag on protecting the planet is as low now as it will ever be.

California has often been heralded as a leader on environmental issues. In its efforts to face down challenges of the future, the state will demonstrate the appropriateness of that characterization.

Note: Google created an interactive view of global warming’s projected impacts on California, which can be explored in Google Earth. Also, check out the video below:

Sam Edmondson was a campaign manager on air toxics issues from 2010 until 2012. He helped organize the first 50 States United for Healthy Air event. His desire to work at an environmental organization came from the belief that if we don't do something to change our unsustainable ways, we are in big trouble.