Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Adapting to a warming (political) climate

California has made a monster climate adaptation strategy. It's no small thing. In point of fact, it's a 200 page thing, covering public health, biodiversity and habitat, ocean and coastal resources, water management, agriculture, forestry, and transportation and energy infrastructure. Google released accompanying visualization with it - which means with a little of that vertiginous Google-Earth action, you can see how deep your house could be underwater along the coast. (Go figure, the kayak rental place I used to work, next to whatever they're calling my Giants' park these days, is out of luck.)

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his Department of Resources, has timed the adaptation strategy to coincide with climate talks in Copenhagen for maximum effect. So what does it mean?

You could say it doesn't change much. California's got landmark laws that deal with human-sourced greenhouse gas production already, after all: AB 32 rests comfortably on the books as law, and has for 3 years now. It's not even the senior member of the climate change legislation club: legislators created a Climate Action Registry 8 years ago (if you really want to get into it, back in '88 the state started keeping track of GHGs, though maybe not incredibly well). The state's climate change site lists 20 pieces of legislation not to mention numerous executive orders - listed first, though the next governor could wipe them out with another stroke of the pen. California's been building a strategy; you don't need to read a 200 page report to see that.

On the other hand. Politicians - perhaps especially American politicians - have found "adaptation" - the word itself, and the concepts driving it - to be risky. We've still got at least one senator who thinks global warming is a hoax. (I learned at Thanksgiving, I have at least one relative who does; I guess I'll continue the poll at Christmas.) Sure, the EPA has considered adaptation, but its language has been fairly noncommittal and nonspecific. Adaptation's higher profile on the national scene has come this year, and it has come courtesy of Waxman-Markey. Holding a press conference at Treasure Island, to emphasize that rising sea levels may soon envelop it, as the world convenes on Denmark to talk about a climate agreement, aims to signify that this strategy is big, in keeping with the role California likes to have on the global stage.

One more thing: the state's assembled a cross section of scientists, policymakers, labor and business leaders to serve as the members of a 23-person advisory panel the state's convening on adaptation strategy.

They're not getting paid, but they are producing recommendations on the top three areas in which California believes it needs to take action to adapt to the changing climate: rising seas, wildfire risk, and water scarcity. Look for those recommendations in July of next year.