The Final Word

Posted by on April 22, 2016

What does the State of California say about climate change and our need to prepare for its impacts? What’s the official word?

In an obscure report, Safeguarding California: Implementation Action Plans, released earlier this year, the Resources Agency assesses our climate future.

Since 2009, California has experienced several of the most extreme natural events in its recorded history: severe drought, an almost non-existent Sierra Nevada winter snowpack, five of the top 20 largest forest fires ever recorded in the state in terms of acreage burned, and back-to-back years of the hottest average temperatures.

According to the California Climate Tracker, the winter average minimum temperature of 2014-15 for the Sierra Nevada region was 32.1 degrees Fahrenheit, the first time this value was above water’s freezing point in 120 years of record-keeping.

As greenhouse gas emissions continue to accumulate and climate disruption grows, such destructive events will become more frequent.

Thankfully, over the course of the document’s 270 pages, we learn how California’s agencies are working to protect us from the worst effects of climate change, with a special focus on vulnerable low-income communities:

We use a number of words, including adaptation, resilience, readiness, and safeguarding, to describe a simple concept: ensuring that people, communities, and natural systems are able to withstand the impacts of climate disruption. By drawing upon reliable, time-tested strategies today, we can increase resilience to the effects of climate change and mitigate the harmful impacts to future generations.

We know that healthy forests clean our air and water, wetlands help absorb rising tides and storm surges, and parks, open space, and farmland sequester carbon and minimize the effects of urban heat islands.

I was recently appointed to the Governor’s technical advisory group to implement Executive Order B-30-15 and I’ve become much more familiar with the state’s Action Plans. We’ve held two meetings thus far — and I’m happy to report a real spirit of camaraderie and thoughtfulness in the group.

Once you get past the scary stuff, climate resilience is essentially a psychologically healthy exercise. By facing our climate problems head-on, by dispassionately examining our future, we can dispel the phantoms that unconsciously push us to freak out or flee into the denial zone. When we focus on things we can do, we are empowered.

Trust me, the phantoms are ugly. Climate change is truly the existential threat of our time. Yet we will only succeed if we unflinchingly accept our new reality.

Acceptance is the first step towards action.

— Jonathan Parfrey