SAN DIEGO (CN) – Steps away from California surfers catching waves at picturesque La Jolla Shores, U.S. Reps. Mike Levin and Kathy Castor discussed adapting to climate change Thursday with world-renowned experts at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
Castor, a Democrat who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, made the trip from Tampa Bay, Florida, to discuss the effects of climate change on U.S. coasts and how the local research scientists at Scripps have done in San Diego and Southern California might apply to understanding climate change nationwide and globally.
“That is really in the eye of the storm, literally,” Castor said of Tampa Bay, which experienced damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017.
The lawmakers heard directly from a handful of experts at Scripps about how California, Florida and coastal U.S. regions will have to adapt the effects of climate change.
The experts said extreme weather events will continue to become more frequent, with Scripps director Dr. Margaret Leinen saying droughts and floods are “two sides of the same coin.” In addition to catastrophic wildfires, California is seeing storm surge flooding similar to Florida in places like Imperial Beach due to sea level rise.
While reducing human impacts on the environment might be a priority in California, which has the country’s most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction plan signed into law by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, the experts said effects of emissions can be felt thousands of miles away from where they were released.
Dr. David Victor, a political science and climate change expert, said no matter where greenhouse gasses are emitted, they effect the entire planet. He said it’s not only important for the United States to be leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions but to gain a “followership” of other countries that do the same.
He said the often-touted refrain by scientists to hold the global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is not a realistic goal. Only France was able to significantly reduce its emissions over a 15-year period when it built several nuclear power plants, Victor said, and that was a year-by-year 4% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Current emissions released would have to be reduced by 18% every year to reduce the global temperature, Victor said.
“We need to take adaptation very seriously,” Victor said, adding: “Because we’ve waited so long we need to be ready for emergency responses.”
In addition to emissions, natural and artificial aerosols also affect climate change according to Dr. Kimberly Prather. Microbes and dust from as far away as Africa have been found in California’s atmosphere, and while most aerosols in the atmosphere are natural scientists are just beginning to understand their impact on climate change and precipitation in particular.
Too many aerosols in the atmosphere cause fewer but more extreme precipitation events, which contributes to sea level rise and flooding.
And pollution aerosols which sit on top of the ocean and end up in the atmosphere are likely impacting human health via the air we breathe, according to Prather.
“They tell you don’t swim, don’t surf, but they don’t tell you don’t breathe,” Prather said, referring to the closures of polluted San Diego beaches due to sewage from Mexico during wet weather.
Sea level rise expert Dr. Mark Merrifield said Scripps implemented a beach flood warning system in Imperial Beach to better give residents and businesses “a heads up of a flooding event” so they can board up windows and get sandbags in place.
Rep. Levin suggested the warning system should be implemented in every coastal zone in the nation.
The Democrat also asked Merrifield and Scripps to work with him to provide data on whether spent nuclear waste being stored on the beach at Southern California Edison’s shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente will be safe as the sea level continues to rise.
“The Edison claim is everything will be just fine, I’d like to validate that with some data,” Levin said.
As for creating federal climate change regulations similar to what California has done, Levin said they need to set “big, bold targets” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationwide.
Jason Anderson, president and CEO of Cleantech San Diego, said those regulations can help boost the economy – contrary to what businesses and climate change deniers might argue.
“They are business opportunities; the business community has a role in solving some of the mitigation and adaptation issues,” Anderson said.
He pointed out after California’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal became law, the state went from being the eighth largest economy in the world to the fifth.
Clean technology jobs have an $8 billion impact on the San Diego economy alone, Anderson said.
“The federal government has the opportunity to do what we’ve done in California. We are not at odds with the business community, California has proven that,” Anderson said.
Castor and Levin asked several of the climate change experts to make policy recommendations to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.