2050 climate report helps region ‘manage the unavoidable’

Ask most climate scientists about the reality of climate change and the vast majority will say their community moved past that question a long time ago. It’s old news.

What might be new is that municipal leaders, public health officials, utilities, dam operators and natural resource managers have the same acceptance that changing climate is a given. It’s one that affects how they do their jobs.

Though that acceptance may not be universal, last weekend’s march on climate change that drew more than 300,000 people to the streets of New York City, and countless others to demonstrations around the world suggests it’s getting there. Meanwhile, certain places are leading the way toward a new way of doing business — places like San Diego.

This summer the San Diego region cemented its status in the vanguard of climate-change adaptation with the release of a National Science Foundation-funded report “San Diego, 2050 is Calling: How Will We Answer?”

The status report, led by Climate Education Partners and The San Diego Foundation, comments on the state of science and civic plans to adapt to a changing climate. It’s a report that provides hope and direction to the region and its leaders.

Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego contributed to the science of the report with projections of the risk of coastal flooding, wildfires and other phenomena.

Regional leaders ranging from the city of Chula Vista to the San Diego County Farm Bureau provided an update on preparations for the San Diego County of the future. The region will be a changed place in 36 years, not inevitably, but probably.

Local officials have the delicate task of venturing into a future where there are still error bars on climate projections. The report shows, however, that the San Diego region has taken many prudent low-risk/high-results actions that make the region better prepared than most for what may come. For example, Carlsbad biotech company Life Technologies’ 52 percent reduction of water use will not do the business or the city any harm.

And there is strong evidence that adapting to climate change has been an economic driver in the region. My personal favorite stat is that the number of clean-economy sector jobs grew by almost 50 percent from 2010 to 2011. Venture capital investment in the San Diego region’s clean technology increased 80 percent in one year, to $340 million in 2012.

Those are impressive numbers, especially considering the full power of free markets to aid the renewable energy industry has yet to be unleashed. Imagine a level playing field in which all energy providers have to pay the true costs of properly disposing of the harmful byproducts they create as they do business.

In coming years, you will hear the word “adaptation” used more often in connection with climate change. The San Diego region will face an increased likelihood of wildfires and water shortages, and an acceleration of sea-level rise and coastal erosion, so business as usual is not an option.

There’s a mantra among sustainability experts that their goal is to help the world “avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable.” With the “2050 Report,” the San Diego region is demonstrating it is well down the road in addressing the second of those objectives.

The report is evidence that in San Diego, scientists, policymakers and community leaders have moved beyond trying to figure out how to talk to each other. They are already at a point where they can speak with the same voice in identifying the region’s human infrastructure as a part of its natural infrastructure. Working together, they are committed to wise planning for the changes 2050 will bring to future generations.

Monroe is editor of UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography explorations now online magazine.

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