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California ponders climate adaptation in areas like housing and education

Wildfires, extreme precipitation events, heat waves and sea-level rise all threaten the uniquely situated Golden State.

(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom likes to say that climate change, far from a future occurrence that may happen depending on our present actions, is actually a current reality being experienced right now by Californians. 

An extensive six-part report on climate change released by the nonpartisan policy analysis firm the Legislative Analyst Office appears to concur with Newsom’s characterization. 

The Golden State is unique in the United States due to its Mediterranean climate combined with coastal exposure, meaning the state is susceptible to climate pattern changes that may not affect other states not prone to coastal flooding and without the water supply issues plaguing the West. 

“Given the magnitude of climate change impacts California already is beginning to experience, the Legislature will confront persistent questions about how the state should respond,” the legislative analyst said in a report released Tuesday. 

The report focuses on how the state should adapt to a changing climate, generally called climate adaptation, as opposed to how the state can or should prevent a further exacerbation of climate change, generally called climate mitigation. 

The report also organized the threats California faces due to climate change into five distinct categories that include higher temperatures that result in extreme heat events; more frequent and intense wildfires in highly forested areas; more frequent and intense droughts; flooding as a result of more extreme precipitation events and coastal flooding and erosion as a result of sea-level rise. 

“More frequent extreme weather and climate-related emergencies will be increasingly disruptive for California’s residents and economy,” the report states

The report eschews specific suggestions for climate adaption and instead explores the way California itself can develop solutions. The legislative analyst urges lawmakers and agencies to desist in thinking of climate change through the narrow lens of environmental issues and realize the issue will affect nearly every aspect of the state’s operation. 

For instance, the report predicts the school closures will increase due to climate emergencies like wildfires and flooding and that the Legislature needs to be proactive in thinking about how to attack learning loss associated with closures. 

“Steps could include directing state departments to ensure that schools are adequately included in statewide emergency planning, providing funding to districts for emergency management planning and facility risk assessments, and supporting plans to maintain continuity of services when impacts occur,” the report states. “In situations where schools and communities are severely impacted, the Legislature also will want to consider what the state’s role should be in supporting recovery efforts.”

Another aspect that transcends the traditional environmental lens is looking at climate change in how it affects labor in California. The report notes that the increase in large devastating wildfires contains impacts to workers across sectors, but particularly outdoor workers who are exposed to increased levels of particulate matter in the atmosphere. 

“The Legislature may want to consider whether the state should play a more proactive role in ensuring labor standards adequately protect workers from the hazards that climate change impacts present,” the report states. “The Legislature also will want to evaluate which workers, industries and regions will be disproportionately affected and how the state might want to help address those challenges.”

Finally, the report details how climate change and adaption will affect housing in California, already a preeminent issue for the state and its lawmakers as affordability is nearly nonexistent in the Golden State and homelessness, which experts say is tied to a lack of housing, continues to be a major problem. 

The authors of the report say climate change has the potential to affect where new housing is constructed, based on a given location’s susceptibility to flooding, sea-level rise or wildfire risk. “While climate change can and will negatively impact housing in some locations, curbing housing development overall is untenable given the state’s housing shortage,” the report states. “Instead, an increased focus on where and how new housing is built will be necessary to mitigate and adapt to the current and growing impacts of climate change.”

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