Part 2- rain/fire, ocean/land, human health & direction.
So, we were just talking about heat and drought in California. Let’s look at the ecological impact for a minute, because that’s been crazy, and we need to look at it to talk about fire. California has been dealing with this unprecedented forest die-off. If you have not seen it, you cannot imagine the scale. Imagine highway driving, that kind of speed, and you’re driving for hours through dead forests. Seeing mountains covered with dead forests to either side. The tree death has transformed the landscape, we all saw the forests just, they’re just gone at the lower elevations. All those dead trees, they died of heat and drought. Some of them directly, more of them indirectly of the pine beetles.
You can imagine, a landscape of dead wood contributes to fire danger. Now, let’s not ignore, fire is part of the landscape here, but the increases due to climate change are wild. Figure, page 1124.
There’s actually some good news on the fire front- restoration of traditional fire practices are proving a big part of the solution, shout out to the Yurok tribe. As traditional fire practice becomes more widespread, that is likely to help reduce the number and intensity of fires, particularly in the northern half of the state.
But we know the fires, the fires might start in the dry season, but what they burn is the growth from the wet season. Another yin-yang, another cycle here. So let’s look at the wet season, let’s look at how winter temperatures are likely to change. We’ll do that by checking out the USDA plant hardiness zone map.
Now, there have been a lot of plant-related changes in California. California, along with Arizona, have had the current biggest growing season increases in the nation, biggest growing season increases in the last 20 years. That’s not necessarily great news, but it does help us understand what we see here on the plant hardiness zone map, that the winter is shrinking here pretty dramatically. We’re got a lot of zone movement, a lot of areas looking at significantly milder winters by 2050.
The federal report expresses specific concern about California’s nut crops, that even by 2050, we might be talking about changes to the winter that will impact the tree’s ability to set a good crop. If they don’t get cold enough for long enough, if they don’t get their chilling days, fruit and nut trees don’t bear properly. The federal report also expresses a very serious note about the change in the winter weather.
If we don’t keep to 4.5, we will lose all snow in most of CA’s mountains by 2050. Snow will fall as rain. The impact on the watershed will be huge. Think about it. No snowpack, no meltwater from snowpack. What that will do to the rivers, to those mountain streams, the trout streams. It doesn’t have to happen. We’ll keep the snow on the mountains if we can get emissions down, and not even as far down as many people would like. RCP 4.5 is a very moderate scenario, it’s very doable.
So cycling back to the fires, there’s a lot going on here that makes it hard to predict the wildfires by 2050. The trees that died in the tree death, we will have an end to that increased fire danger factor. And as we look at milder winters, less precipitation with the drought, there is some evidence to suggest that the fires will become less severe over time. That as we use more traditional fire practices to manage undergrowth, and have less undergrowth to manage due to the drought, that wildfires will decrease. This has shown to be the case in New Mexico. As they increased traditional practices, especially in conjuction with some dryer winters, there was a real drop in those big, hard to control wildfires. But, in California the Santa Anna winds are predicted to intensify, which could cause more intense fire spread. We can’t take wildfire off the table as a threat, but with the tree death being still so recent, it is possible that what we’ve been experiencing, we may be around the peak of these terrible wildfires. We can realistically hope that we’re not looking at a continual worsening of fire trends.
While we’re kinda talking weather trends, there are specific predictions in the federal report about atmospheric rivers. They’ve got evidence from six different research groups, using different methods, that the atmospheric rivers will be more frequent and more intense as we get towards mid century. We saw what that atmospheric river did up in BC, that was horrible this winter.
What’s even more wild about the consensus prediction, is that there’s strong agreement that the atmospheric rivers will start getting kinda crazy in their trajectory. They’ll start moving further down the coast, farther to the south. Central California, southern California, the landscape is not set up to handle a big atmospheric river. The potential for major highway impacts, major mudslides, is quite serious.
That all gets us closer to the sea. With the atmospheric rivers, we’re talking about one of the ways the land and sea really interface in California, and we cannot pretend that the ocean is not super important to California. California has the most valuable ocean-based economy in the country. Half a million people work in this industry, and they generate 22 Billion dollars more in economic production than they get paid in wages. That’s an industry that benefits the whole country, and the work that has been done to make many of the west coast fisheries sustainable, it’s been incredible. The work to clean up California’s coast, it’s been inspiring. But those fisheries are facing new threats, and many of those iconic coastal ecosystems are in trouble.
Sea level rise, storm surges, ocean warming, and ocean acidification are altering the shoreline and coastal ecosystems. Let’s hit these guys one by one. Sea level rise, honestly, it’s not as bad in California as in other parts of the country. Looking at maybe a foot, max, by 2050, and a lot of the cities that will be impacted are being real aggressive about dealing with their problems. And I can’t believe Californians aren’t going to get in there and do whatever it takes for your beaches. Your states’ beaches are the greatest in the country, my personal opinion, and it’s thanks to the actions and choices of Californians.
No, there are very few of you in California who should have sea level rise on your personal short list of things to worry about. In your area, I’d be more concerned about warming and acidification in these waters. Warming causes nasty algal blooms, poisons shellfish, kills animals who eat the shellfish, like sea lions and people. And warming reduces ocean oxygen, kills sensitive fish, impacts the richness of the ecosystem. A lot of our ecosystem richness in California’s coastal waters is also very sensitive to ocean acidification.
You might not have heard about ocean acidification, I’m going to explain it for just a minute. We know one of the emissions we need to reduce is CO2, right, carbon emissions? We want to reduce carbon emissions for a lot of reasons, but people don’t talk enough about the direct impact CO2 has on water. Water takes up more CO2 when there’s more CO2 in the air, and it causes a chemical reaction that makes the water more acidic. Off of California, there are some naturally acidic waters, they go through a seasonal acidic upwelling. But with the human-caused increase in acidification off the coast- and it’s a big increase, 25-40% increase- well, during those seasons that were already kind of acidic, CA’s coastal waters have become some of the most acidic waters in the world. The water is so acidic it’s already been shown to be killing some shelled organisms.
Shells- like clam shells, crab shells, lobster shells- are made of calcium carbonate. That’s a chemical compound, it dissolves if it gets too acidic. Think about fossils for just a second. You’ve probably seen that clams go way back, right? Isn’t it, like, kind of psycho that we’re taking out clams? We’re making the ocean so acidic that clams can’t form their shells?
If we can’t address ocean warming and ocean acidification, we’re looking at radically changed ecosystems in California waters. Without the rich variety of shelled organisms and oxygen-sensitive fish that currently make these ecosystems so special, we’ll lose a lot of other life forms. We’ll be looking at ecosystems dominated by jellyfish and squid. It’ll really hurt the otters, the seals, the dolphins, the whales. We’ve worked so hard to help bring these species back, to heal the fisheries, to heal the waters of these coasts, and we’ve made so much good progress. The richness we enjoy today in California’s waters is thanks to Californians. The older generation of Californians did hard work, they preserved these wonderful coastal systems, we forget today how they were almost lost. And for us to pass these ecosystems forward, for us to steward them and help them, we need to bring emissions down. Controlling ocean acidification, controlling ocean warming, absolutely requires reducing emissions.
We like to talk about direct action here. We like to talk about what you can do. With emissions, we need policy level action. You read about individual changes suggested by the big think tanks, they’re like “take less international flights”. Yes, because the regular person, we take so many international flights a year. Sure. There are of course changes you can do, you can move towards a plant-based diet, you can increase your home’s energy efficiency. But they’re not going to be enough.
We need policy level action to help bring emissions down. Every American who understands the problem should want to bring emissions down, so if our public servants really serve us, they ought to be broadly interested in the problem.
Direct actions you can take in California in many ways ought to focus on protecting your health. If you’re ride or die, if you’re staying with California through all of this, and I can respect that, get in on rooftop solar. Good opportunities there, and you can get rooftop solar set up so that you can use it to power your home, not necessarily have it hooked into the grid. You want to have a measure of power independence, because the heat is projected to become increasingly severe, and keeping yourself, your family cool, that can be critical for health if it gets hot enough.
California has already had deadly heatwaves, and if we look at LA in particular, the potential for extreme heat in LA- That’s the area the federal government highlights as having the greatest potential for catastrophic heat death, for catastrophic mass death by heat. Because people there, communities there, they’re not prepared. But you can get ready.
Figure out your family’s backup water plan. It could be little, keeping a limited supply in case of short-term disruptions, or it could be more involved, like putting up a dew net, working out a long-term system. It’s going to depend on where you are and how much you need to be self-reliant.
We may not be expecting wildfires to continue to get worse and worse and worse, but we do expect them to remain a threat. You’ll want to do what you can to improve air quality in your home, focusing particularly on air quality for children. Kids often get long-term impacts on their health from the smoke. Air filtration is another project that can be small scale or large scale; can be DIY, or it can be a business opportunity.
So, let’s take a minute to sit with this. This is a pretty rough forecast for California. It’s not unlike the Texas forecast, where the state is so big it’s not a local problem, it’s a complex system problem. To a degree, that’s the same for all of us. If a place is more locally okay, that’s good, but it’s not like we aren’t impacted by each other.
I’m gonna say something here that’s not going to be popular. And if you’re ride or die for California, I’m not talking to you here. You get ready. You take care of the places you love in the state you love. But if you’re in California, and you’re struggling. You can’t afford to buy in, you make so much money but you pay it all in rent, there are a lot of people like you. What you should do, you should get out of California! That’s the best way to help the state. That would take so much pressure off these struggling power systems, these struggling water systems in the state. If you’re struggling, do yourself a favor, do the state a favor, come live somewhere with an easier outlook!
I promise, it’s not as bad here in the Midwest as you think. There are other places with good outlooks to check out, places that are actually cool. Parts of New York state, parts of Colorado, New Mexico. But in the Midwest, you can make it as a regular person. It’s not so hard to live, the income inequality is not as insane. Find yourself a couple of possible destinations, come check them out. We want you here. Many Midwestern communities are near historic population lows, we could use more people. We want you here. There are ways to get ready, stay or go. You’ve got time, and I hope I helped you get access to information that’ll help you make your choice. This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out. Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there. There is hope. We can prepare for what’s coming. Let’s get ready.