Drought, Fires, Rising Seas Fueling Uncertainty
California is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record and it’s far from over. The state has been locked in a devastating drought for more than a decade. A warming ocean and a warming atmosphere are taking their toll on the most populous state in the U.S. and one of the largest economies in the world. It also produces a significant amount of the world’s food supply.
Global warming can cause drought, higher temperatures, saltwater contamination through rising sea levels, flooding, and increased risk of pests. These changes pose a serious threat to California’s agricultural industry, which generated $50 billion in revenue in 2018, and which is responsible for more than half of all domestic fruits and vegetables. Because California feeds not only its own residents, but the entire U.S. and other countries as well, production declines could lead to food shortages and higher prices.
Approximately 85 percent of California’s population live and work in coastal counties. The sea level along California’s coasts has risen nearly 8 inches in the past century and is projected to rise by as much as 20 to 55 inches by the end of the century. A 55-inch sea level rise could put nearly half a million people at risk of flooding by 2100, and threaten $100 billion in property and infrastructure, including roadways, buildings, hazardous waste sites, power plants, and parks and tourist destinations. Coastal erosion could have a significant impact on California’s ocean-dependent economy, which is estimated to be $46 billion per year.
Californians already experience the worst air quality in the nation.
Hotter temperatures and more wildfires generate more smog, which can damage lungs, and increases childhood asthma, respiratory and heart disease and death. Of course, wildfires are claiming lives in other ways.
California is one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world, with the highest number of unique plant and animal species of all 50 states and the greatest number of endangered species. Climate change will adversely affect plant and wildlife habitats and the ability of the State’s varied ecosystems to support clean water, wildlife, fish, timber and other goods and services important for our wellbeing.
Despite the tragedy of the drought and the wildfires, California has been working in the right direction for years. Like the rest of the world, it must make further reforms and plan for greater aversion much faster to avoid a mass catastrophe that could displace millions of additional lives. The state, its businesses and its citizens are locked in a battle of survival.
Read the full story about California and climate change.