Limit the harm

It’s not just political public relations-speak to proclaim that California is a global leader when it comes to efforts to reduce global warming. In a recent New York Times editorial: “For years, while Washington slept, most of the serious work on climate change has occurred in the states, and no state has worked harder than California.”

Now a just-released report from the Public Policy Institute of California heralds two regions in particular—the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento metropolitan area—for having acted with particular swiftness and fortitude on efforts to reduce emissions of global-warming pollution.

So kudos and slaps on the back all around.

But hold up. That’s not going to be enough.

“Preparing California for Climate Change” goes on to outline how the state must now also become a leader in developing ways to minimize the harm that is no longer preventable. Yes, some consequences of global warming are already inevitable no matter what actions we take moving forward to reduce greenhouse gases.

We’re talking accelerating sea levels, more frequent extreme weather-related events (like floods, heat waves, drought and wildfires), higher air and water temperatures, coastal storm surges.

“Preparing California” gives good grades to water agencies and electrical utilities for attempts they’ve made already to increase readiness in their realm for what is to come. But the study’s authors have less confidence that preparation is adequate in areas such as statewide flood management, public health, air-quality planning and ecosystem conservation.

Among other things, the report recommends a comprehensive statewide adaptation strategy that focuses on key action items, such as improving the basic science on climate impacts at the regional and local levels; helping “frontline actors,” such as city and county governments, interpret that science and determine which levels of climate risks to plan for and over which time frames; and, importantly, strengthening incentives for coordinated action.

“California is already a leader in efforts to reduce the effects of global warming,” said PPIC research fellow and report co-author Louise Bedsworth. “We now have the opportunity to be a leader in developing approaches to limit the harm we are unable to prevent.”

Got it. California wouldn’t have it any other way.