Monday, July 2, 2012

Global warming in our backyard

It's not just about the polar bears anymore. There was a time when the conversation about global warming was dominated by news about the Arctic, where its effects are the most easily visible to the lay public. The narrative involved shrinking glaciers and the ferocious white bears that live part of their lives on drifting ice floes that now are melting.

But polar bears are far away and ice is just, well, ice. So it would be a good idea for the public — and especially Southern Californians — to pay rapt attention to several reports published within the last couple of weeks that bring the reality of climate change from the polar ice caps to our backyard.

A climate change study at UCLA predicted big increases in the number of very hot days in the inland areas of Los Angeles County. Starting in about three decades, the report said, the number of days with temperatures above 95 is likely to quadruple in the San Fernando Valley, for example. The result will be more allergies among residents, bigger populations of some insect pests and worsening wildfires.

But don't get smug if you live along the coast. The UCLA study was followed a few days later by a National Research Council report predicting that rises in the sea level will be more dramatic along the California coast than the global average, with a rise of up to a foot in 20 years and possibly more than 5 feet by the end of the century. That's even worse than the scenario described the same week in a U.S. Geological Survey report that found sea levels already arerising more quickly along the East Coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina than they are globally. This sets the stage for catastrophic flooding, destruction of valuable buildings, costly damage to ports and even some airports, inundation of low-lying towns unless adequate sea walls are built, and erosion of coastal cliffs and beaches. More