PRESENT AT THE CREATION

By Ron Bonn, SanDiego350

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on 4/20/2017

You could say I was present at the creation.

Looking back in our lives, we rarely know exactly when something started. But regular television news coverage of man-made climate change, with all it implies, started on New Year’s Day, 1970.

Ron Bonn

Ron Bonn, courtesy of the author

The staff of “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite”: producers, writers, technicians; a couple dozen of us in all, were sitting around the newsroom waiting for something to happen—because nothing happens on New Year’s Day—when the man himself stormed in. “Goddamn it,” he said to us, “we’ve got to do something about this environment story.”

You might guess that when Walter Cronkite said, “Goddamn it,” things happened at CBS News. And what happened is that I, the science producer for “The Evening News,” was detached for eight weeks to “do something” about this environment story. Never before, to my knowledge, had a network spot news program paid that much attention to a non-breaking story. [Read more…]

Why I Am An Activist, #4

By Amy Knight, SanDiego350

It started when I began volunteering my Saturdays. It progressed when I got excited about giving up entire Saturdays. The feeling seemed all too familiar, but new. A laser-like focus, inexhaustible, melting hours away as if they were minutes. A flush of excitement came to my face whenever ice core records were mentioned.

Okay, maybe ice cores aren’t your thing. But, odds are that everyone has experienced these feelings in some way, about something. Perhaps it’s when floating on a surfboard, about to catch the next wave, or when about to take down a chess rival. It could even happen to some while tackling the intricacies of a tax return. If you’re getting a big return, that is…

I get that feeling when I’m teaching the science of climate change.

Amy teaching children about the ocean

Teaching children about the ocean. Photo courtesy of the author.

I didn’t magically wake up one morning and realize this was my passion. I realized it at 3:06 PM on a Saturday while listening to a University of Miami climate scientist explain the biogeochemical processes of ocean acidification. This was supposed to be my day off. Why was I here? Why was it transporting me so?

A year ago, I was teaching high school Psychology in Miami, Florida. My students were from predominantly low socioeconomic, minority communities sitting literally at ground zero for bearing the economic and social impacts of climate change. I’d spent the previous two years involved with Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities (CLEO) outside of school hours, learning the science behind climate change and helping teachers incorporate climate change into their curriculum. The hours were long, the scientific concepts demanding, and the political climate in Florida somewhat short of supportive. [Read more…]

Climate Change and Faith: A Moral Imperative

By James Long, SanDiego350

(Originally published in the East County Magazine)

On Monday, March 13, 2017, at the First United Methodist Church in Mission Valley, a panel composed of a climate scientist and representatives of the Jewish, Catholic, and Islamic faiths discussed climate change, each from their perspectives.

Dr. Ramanathan

Dr. Ramanthan makes his presentation. Photo by Greg Withee

The evening began with Dr. V. Ramanathan’s summary presentation of his climate science findings over the past 47 years. Dr. Ramanathan is a professor of atmospheric and climate sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He also serves as a council member in Pope Francis’ Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In his presentation, he made the following points:

  • We are giving a damaged planet to our children, who will witness a rapidly and adversely changing, unpredictable world in their lifetimes
  • $500 billion in subsidies are given to the worldwide fossil fuel industry each year; this amount would solve 60% of the climate problem
  • There is still time to avoid the effects that a global temperature increase of 6°C would impose (at which point one third of the planet would be uninhabitable), but the window of opportunity is only open for 4 or 5 more years
  • The wealthiest one billion people in the world contribute 50% of global CO2 emissions, while the poorest 3 billion people contribute only 5%
  • The University of California has put forth 10 solutions to combating climate change, gathered in a report called Bending the Curve
  • In addition, The Lancet has published a report on the adverse health effects that climate change will impose

[Read more…]

One Million Letters & Underappreciated Ocean Effects Presentations

by Mark Hughes, SanDiego350

(Originally published in the East County Magazine on 3/5/2017)

On the evening of March 1, the organization Stay Cool 4 Grandkids hosted speakers who presented on Kids 4 Planet Earthtwo climate change topics. Representatives from Kids 4 Planet Earth spoke about their goal to have school children send one million letters to President Trump by Earth Day, telling him how important it is to them that he address climate change. Please help their request to go viral by sharing this goal on Facebook and other social media outlets.

The next speaker on the agenda was Dr. Lisa Levin, professor and researcher at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Dr. Levin spoke about the effects of climate change on the oceans, saying her concern is that this issue doesn’t get as much press as climate change’s atmospheric effects. It’s accurate, she says, to call the Earth “Planet Ocean,” as most of world’s habitable volume is in the oceans. [Read more…]

SECURITY & CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE REVEALS DISTURBING ATTITUDE SHIFT

By Mark Hughes, SanDiego350

(Originally published in the East County Magazine on 3/5/2017)

On February 21, 2017, an audience of approximately 75 attended the Security & Climate Change: Issues and Perspectives conference, held in the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park. Organized and funded by The Center for Climate and Security (with the support of The San Diego Foundation and Skoll Global Threats Fund). The program focused on the threat climate change imposes on world stability, the burden it puts on the US military, and what they, as well as our local and state governments, are doing to plan for the consequences. The conference was followed by a screening of a new documentary entitled “The Age of Consequences.”

Veteran's Museum

Veterans Museum in Balboa Park. Photo courtesy of the author.

The Mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, started the conference by noting that the city has been diligently working toward sustainability. Evidence of that effort, to name only two, include the city’s enforceable Climate Action Plan (CAP) as well as the largest water recycling effort in the western hemisphere. These projects could not be done without the close cooperation of the military based here (1 in 6 of the Navy’s personnel reside in San Diego, 1 in 4 of the Marines). San Diego, he said, sets the bar, leads the way toward positive, innovative change. [Read more…]

The Truth of the Matter

Originally Published in the San Diego Free Press on 11/24/16

by Mark Hughes

One of humorist Will Rogers’ signature lines was: “Well, all I know is what I read in the papers.” In subtext, he’s saying he trusted what he read, so it seems reasonable to believe that in those days newspapers lived and died by getting the story right. What a simpler time; if Will was reading papers and the Internet and watching TV today, depending on the sources he chose, some to much of what he learned would be either misleading or just plain false. The information portal guardians have been overrun by hordes bearing rocket-propelled innuendo, guided missile conspiracy theories, and bandoleers bristling with self-serving lies. But that was only the first wall to fall. In this country, those hordes are no longer raging outside governmental gates; soon they will be the government itself.

Welcome to the newest incarnation of the world. The rules, as they always do, have once again changed, and the eternal response is demanded: what do we do about it? How do we live now?

Let’s start with a review of the situation. Truth, in both the social setting and as science’s burnished product, took a hard beating in this election cycle. But perhaps that was an almost foregone conclusion, obvious once recent history is examined from a certain angle.

[Read more…]

Notes from a Climate Conference Junkie, Part 2

by James Long

This post and my last one are about a journey that has changed my view of myself as a climate activist. That  journey took me to two climate conferences in a month. I found new friends, a new awareness of how active the climate movement has become, and a lot of ideas about the issues that call for action and how I can respond to them. Last time, I wrote about the first part of that journey, the Pando Populus conference in Claremont, California. Now I want to share the second part with you.

“We will not acquiesce to the ongoing degradation and destruction of life.” –Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience on Climate Change
Climate conference: 2015 General Assembly logo

I joined 5000 other Unitarian Universalists at our annual Assembly. Climate justice is a moral commitment for UUs.

Two weeks after Pando Populus, I left for Portland,Oregon to attend climate workshops at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Assembly. What does the UUA have to do with climate?  Well, Unitarian Universalists have long committed themselves to climate action. It flows from one of UU’s seven principles, that we “affirm [our] respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” In 2006, the UUA enacted a Statement of Conscience on Climate Change, declaring, “we will not acquiesce to the ongoing degradation and destruction of life that human actions are leaving to our children and grandchildren.” I feel the UUA’s call to act for climate justice is exactly what faith groups need to do to help protect the planet. [Read more…]

Notes from a Climate Conference Junkie, Part 1

by James Long

Folk singer Pete Seeger, age 94, at his home on the Hudson River, where he was interviewed for Pando Populus.

Folk singer Pete Seeger, age 94, at his home on the Hudson River, where he was interviewed for Pando Populus.

I started my journey singing with Pete Seeger and ended it three weeks later with the fiery intellectual Cornel West! I just got back from Pando Populus in Claremont, California, and the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Portland, Oregon. After 25 to 30 lectures — together with great music, stimulating presenters and a lot of new friends — I’m ready to get down to the business of local organizing for climate action.  But first, I’d like to share my notes about these inspiring conferences. I’ll tell you about Pando Populus this time, and the UU Assembly in a second posting.

What is Pando Populus?

"Seizing an alternative" logo from the Pando Populuus conference.

“Seizing an alternative” logo from the Pando Populuus conference.

The name Pando Populus refers to a Utah aspen grove that may be the oldest and largest living organism on Earth.  “Above ground Pando appears to be a grove of many individual trees.  Underground they are interconnected through a single root system — sprouts of the same tree.”  Pando Populus, the environmental organization, has adopted this name as symbolizing the interconnectedness of all living things. [Read more…]

Earth Fair 2015 Scrapbook

 

In early observance of Earth Day, dozens of SD350 volunteers, high on solar power and down on fracking, showed up Sunday, April 19th to work at Earth Fair 2015.  (Officially Earth Day is April 22nd.)  60,000 fair-goers crowded into the park, many of them crossing Cabrillo Bridge and walking along El Prado where they came upon SD350’s Sustainability and Anti-Fracking booths. What a great spot for visibility! — right there on Balboa Park’s only western access route.

On the Prado

Volunteers are kept busy answering questions and soliciting petition signatures.

Volunteers Keith Fowler, Bob Braaton, and Bruce Graves are kept busy answering questions and soliciting petition signatures.

All day long on El Prado we could see from a distance that the largest groups of people were gathered in front of our booths, easily identified by our Blue Man and our willing volunteers bobbing with their yellow sun hats.                 — Sue Zesky, SD350 Earth Day volunteer coordinator

 

Easily visible, SD350’s Blue Man, Paul Sasso, helped slow traffic down so volunteers could corral visitors with our message about climate change: It’s happening, humans are causing it, and together we can do something about that. [Read more…]

In Deep: Sea-Level Rise and San Diego

As we burn more fossil fuels, and thus pump more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we are changing every aspect of earth’s climate system. One of the many consequences is that the sea is rising.

On January 19, San Diego 350 will stage a simple action to help make people more aware of what rising seas mean to San Diego right now, as well as in the future. We’re going to Mission Bay, which is pretty much ground-zero for sea-level rise in our county, to mark out where the high-water line is likely to be in about thirty years. Come join us. It’s pretty striking where that line will be.

This page will give you some of the background on why this action is important. We’ll fill you in on what is causing the sea to rise, how it is likely to rise over time, and why it matters to us in San Diego.

Why the sea is rising.The sea is rising now because [1,2,3] water expands as it warms, like the mercury in a thermometer. It is also rising because higher temperatures are melting glaciers worldwide. Even the great Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets are beginning, gradually, but possibly inexorably, to melt and slide into the sea. The world’s average sea level has already risen about eight inches since the start of the Industrial Revolution [1,2,3]. How far and how fast it rises in the future depends on how much fossil fuel we continue to burn and how rapidly the great ice sheets respond to the warming climate. Though both of these factors are hard to predict [1,2,3], one recent estimate is that global average sea level is likely to rise 12 to 18 inches by 2050, and 36 to 55 inches by 2100 [4]. It could rise 30 or 40 feet over the next few centuries, if the Greenland [3,5] and West Antarctic [6] ice sheets collapse.

Here and now. Though 12 to 18 inches over a few decades might not seem like much, sea-level rise is something we need to deal with, right here in San Diego. The map below, from a report by the San Diego Foundation [7], shows what even a little sea-level rise can do to a low-lying area such as Mission Beach. By 2050, roughly half of Mission Beach will likely be flooded at high tide. Much of the rest would be flooded about once in five years, when higher sea levels, high tides and waves from big storms combine.

Sea-level rise will flood Mission Beach by 2050

Rising seas will likely flood much of San Diego’s Mission Beach by 2050. The area in purple would be flooded at high tide. The area in blue would be flooded about once in five years, when storm-driven waves come on top of rising seas and high tide. (Source: San Diego Foundation/California Climate Change Center.)

That flooding is going to cost San Diegans real money. Our quick check of real-estate listings suggests that property in Mission Beach costs about $20 Million to $40 Million per acre. At those prices, the property within the five-year flooded area on the map below is worth roughly $1 to 2 Billion. That estimate is very crude, of course, but it does indicate that sea-level rise can have real economic consequences.

2050 is only thirty-five years away. That’s about the length of a typical mortgage. It’s well within the time-scale on which we make plans for our lives, including our plans for financial security. If your financial planning includes property in Mission Beach, sea-level rise is something you need to think about, right now.

More than flooding. The rising sea will do more than flood property. It will exacerbate the loss of beaches that we are already suffering [8]. It will shrink what little is left of our coastal wetlands [9,10]. Those wetlands are nurseries for fish and shellfish, vital habitat for endangered birds and other wildlife, and natural filters for the polluted runoff from our streets [11,12].

Rising seas will also increase coastal erosion [13,14], which is already a problem in many San Diego communities such as Solana Beach [15], Carlsbad, Encinitas and others. California as a whole could lose 41 square miles of land to the sea by 2100 [16]. That’s equivalent to erasing a strip of land 200 feet wide along our entire 1100-mile coast. However, the actual erosion would be concentrated in certain areas, so the loss in those places would be even greater.

Too much of the wrong kind of water. One of San Diego’s biggest rising-sea problems is happening hundreds of miles away, in the San Francisco Bay Delta.

The Delta is a vast, low-lying maze of channels, fed by the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers and emptying into San Francisco Bay [17,18]. Much of Southern California’s water [17,18], including 20 to 30 % of San Diego’s [19], is pumped from a collection point in the Delta.

Jones-Levee-Break-berkeley-coutesy dwr

Sea-level rise increases the risk of a severe levee break in the San Francisco Bay Delta, which could shut down much of Southern California’s water supply for months. (Photo: CA Dept. of Water Resources.)

The problem is that the water level in the channels needs to stay a certain distance above sea level, to keep out the salt water that tries to push its way in from the Bay [18,20]. Yet, the reclaimed ground between the channels has sunk as much as 15 feet below sea level [17]. The water in the system is precariously kept above sea level by 1100 miles of aging levees. If those levees break at the wrong place, the water in the channels will drop, sea water will flood into the channels from the Bay, and the water supply for 25 million Californians [18] will be ruined for weeks or months [20]. As the sea rises, the water level in the Delta, and the pressure on those rotting levees, must increase. Sea-level rise is thus one of several factors that are making this vital water system unsustainable [18,20].

Our governor has advocated a possible fix that would cost $23 Billion [21]. That’s $600 for every person in the state. In this sense, the rising sea is costing us all real money, no matter how far above sea level we live. Our perilous water system is one very concrete example of how we are connected in surprising ways to places far away, and how much our well being depends on public policy that recognizes the reality of our changing environment.

Beyond San Diego. Of course, sea-level rise affects far more than our city and our state. The United States has more than $1 Trillion worth of infrastructure at risk of going under water, with just a two-foot rise in sea level [2]. Many American cities are at increasing risk of flooding at high tide [22]. That risk is especially high on the East and Gulf Coasts. There, sea-level rise is compounded because the land is sinking and the slowdown of the Gulf Stream – itself a consequence of global warming – is pushing the sea upward along the shore [23] .

Sea-level rise increases hurricane flooding.

A foot or two of sea-level rise can greatly increase the area flooded in a hurricane. (Photo: NOAA)

In addition, in many America cities, a small rise in sea level can markedly increase the risks of flooding during severe storms. In San Francisco Bay, with sea levels just six inches higher, a relatively routine storm, such as might come along once a decade, could produce the same flooding that a much more severe, once-a-century storm would have produced before [24]. In Long Island Sound, a 19-inch rise in sea level would increase the property loss due to storm surge by 73% [25]. If the sea had been that high during Hurricane Sandy, coastal flooding losses would have been nearly $14 Billion. [26. See table, “The ten most significant flood events by National Flood Insurance payouts.”]

Along America’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts, more than 4 million homes worth more than $1 Trillion are at risk from hurricane storm-surge damage today. [26. See table, “Total potential residential exposure to hurricane storm-surge damage in coastal states.”] Higher sea levels will make this risk even greater. With so much investment at stake, rising seas are a very important factor in our nation’s economic security.

The future is now. The risks to Mission Bay, our Delta water system, and our nation’s infrastructure are examples of the very practical reasons why we need to mitigate climate change right now. But an even bigger reason is that our choices today will determine so much of the future, for such a long time to come.

Our responsibility to the future is spelled out by the physical processes that are causing the sea to rise. Those processes have several implications. First, the fossil fuels we burn today will affect the climate for hundreds or thousands of years, because the carbon dioxide we emit today will stay in the atmosphere that long [27,28,29]. Second, depending on how much carbon dioxide we allow to accumulate, the sea could rise by a tremendous amount over the next few hundred years: 23 feet if the Greenland ice sheet melted [5], another 15 feet if the West Antarctic ice sheet collapsed [6], even 70 feet if parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet collapsed as well [30]. Third, we are in deeper than we realize: As the heat slowly mixes down into the ocean and the ice sheets slide slowly downhill, the sea will continue to rise for centuries, just based on the greenhouse gases we have already emitted [3,5,6,31,32,33]. Yet, fourth, it is never too late to act: Although we have already caused a certain amount of sea-level rise that will unfold over time, we can always keep it from rising faster and farther by burning less fossil fuel [2,3,5,6,31,32,33].

Our action on January 19 is our effort to alert our fellow San Diegans to the reality of sea-level rise, its importance for us here and now, and the responsibility we have to every person who lives after us. We hope you will join us in Mission Beach, to see one small example of how real that responsibility is.

 

Thanks to George for his hard work researching sea-level rise, and to Bonnie for her thoughtful critique.

Creative Commons License This text is used here by permission of the author, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.