Speaker preaches the importance of adaptation

Collier: Californians need to prepare now for climate change

MITIGATE <i>AND </i>ADAPT<br>Robert Collier of the Sierra Nevada Alliance says it’s important to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but it’s equally important to begin adapting to the climate change that is already occurring.

Robert Collier of the Sierra Nevada Alliance says it’s important to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but it’s equally important to begin adapting to the climate change that is already occurring.

photo by Matt Siracusa

Online resources For more information on the Sierra Nevada Alliance, see www.sierranevadaalliance.org. For information on the Butte Environmental Council or future Code Blue events, see www.becnet.org.

The climate is changing, and Californians should start preparing for it now.

That, in a nutshell, was the message delivered Monday evening (May 11) by Robert Collier, a self-described “climate-change nerd” and volunteer with the Sierra Nevada Alliance.

“Planning how to adapt to climate change now will be easier and cheaper than waiting for a crisis,” Collier said during his talk at the Butte Environmental Council’s fifth “Code Blue” water series held at the Chico Grange. The presentation focused on adaptation to climate change, rather than just mitigation, or reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses.

While working to reduce emission of gasses into the atmosphere is crucial, Collier said it is also important to adapt. Adaptation to climate change is a major focus behind the Sierra Nevada Alliance, because “even under the most optimistic scenario, we are still looking at an impact.” The Sierra Nevada Alliance is a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 out of South Lake Tahoe to protect and restore the natural environment of the Sierra Nevada.

Collier also discussed principles that resource planners can incorporate into their resource management to address and adapt to climate change in order to prevent a devastating impact in the Sierra Nevada, with education being at the top of the list.

The Sierra Nevada, Spanish for “snowy mountain range,” stretches 400 miles in California and in some parts of Nevada. It supplies 65 percent of the state’s developed water, a resource that is highly dependent on the winter snow pack. However, as average temperatures continue to rise, the snow pack is projected to decline 25 percent to 40 percent between 2025 and 2050, according to scientific literature.

Scientists also say current water management strategies will not be able to handle the impact of climate change, especially when combined with California’s population growth, with the result that water shortages will become greater and more frequent.

For instance, seven of the largest Sierra glaciers, including Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park, have retreated by 30 percent to 70 percent in the past 100 years. In addition, as temperatures increase, precipitation will fall as “wet rain rather than snow,” Collier said. That in turn will have a continued influence on flood seasons, and dam operators will need to adapt to those changes, Collier explained.

Increased temperatures also lead to shortened ski seasons in the Sierra. This affects recreational activities and will cause a ripple effect on local economies that rely on tourism, he added.

Then there’s the heightened fire danger resulting from higher temperatures, something Californians are becoming all too familiar with. Higher temperatures have also affected wildlife migration and the growth of vegetation in the high alpine forests, Collier said.

“You can definitely see there has been a pronounced warming globally, across the country and in California,” he said. “The earth cooks itself like an oven due to those increased gases.”

Collier discussed seven principles for adapting to climate change, starting with education. Other principles: identify future change through modeling and forecast tools; use adaptive management strategies to maintain flexibility; monitor and track changes in weather, hydrology and ecosystems; promote resiliency of existing Sierra ecosystems; prioritize projects; and integrate and coordinate efforts.

Hydropower regimenting efforts, timber harvest plans, watershed plans and counties and cities updating their general plans are all things to consider in preparing for climate change.

“Options for adapting to future climate-change scenarios lie in restoring the function and resiliency of natural water systems, such as high-Sierra mountain meadows, wetlands, floodplains, and watersheds with healthy forests. Equally as important, we should reduce our reliance on man-made water systems through far-reaching water and energy conservation measures,” as noted in the Sierra Climate Change Toolkit.

The toolkit suggests remapping floodplains, setting back levees to enlarge floodplain storage areas and incorporating weather forecasting into all dam operations, among other recommendations.

Regarding wildlife, the toolkit discusses identifying what needs to be protected and predicting where critical habitats will be in the future “and working now to protect them.”

On an individual level, Collier stressed using public transportation or walking and biking as mitigation efforts. He said it is important to perform home energy audits, to look for Energy Star and WaterSense products, reduce water consumption, avoid using bottled water, buy sustainable wood and plant trees.