Local Implications of Global Climate Change

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Last week’s Indy carried letters from two gentlemen responding to my column. One correspondent saw no evidence of global climate change in Laguna Beach, and the other implied that planet-warming-driven sea rise is inconsequential in our city. To both of them I would make three points.

First, as I’ve said before, climatic conditions in any single locale during a very limited time frame can neither refute nor confirm the phenomenon of global climate change. This is especially true when viewing the world from our magnificent bubble here in Laguna Beach.  Scientists go one further and say this with respect to California. According to Dan Cayan, a research meteorologist who heads the California Climate Change Center (a consortium of more than a dozen science-based research offices that advise the state on policy): “California is pretty much the most volatile place in the contiguous United States. We’ve always seen huge variations in weather from year to year and decade to decade.” Because of California’s volatility, climate change must be tracked over larger areas and increments of time, such as decades, centuries, and even longer time spans. If the two writers care to research the aggregate statistics on global temperature increases since the onset of the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s they will find a fairly consistent warming trend line that corresponds with the ever-growing burning of fossil fuels that heat the atmosphere.  The Newkirk Science Center at UC Irvine and UCLA’s Center for Climate Change Solutions would doubtlessly furnish the two writers with the relevant data.

Second, unfortunately, sea rise, whether measurable in Laguna Beach or not, is a threatening reality in other parts of the Pacific world, especially where low-lying islands have suffered seawater intrusion into their drinking water systems and croplands.  Some of these island countries, such as Tuvalu and Fiji, are begging the world’s major carbon-burning nations to curb emissions substantially before their insular communities are destroyed by sea rise.  Closer to home, concern about sea rise is mounting.  Advised by scientists, authorities for the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as Oakland, are making costly preparations for the sea rise that they anticipate would damage their facilities and cut into profits.  These port officials and business interests don’t seem like the types that would let hysteria and unfounded claims regarding any matter govern their policies and investments.  Their decisions are science-based and data-driven.

Lastly, consider glacial melt in Alaska and Greenland and sea rise. I visited Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier (larger than Rhode Island) to observe the calving process.  Regarding this glacier, the National Geographic Society reported in 2008:  “The ice has thinned and melted back more than 2800 meters (more than 9000 feet) since it was measured in 1911.”  That’s just one of Alaska’s 100,000 glaciers, only 14 of which are not receding.  Similar ice cap melt is occurring in Greenland.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds: “The Greenland Ice Sheet is shrinking at a rate of 40–50 cubic miles each year, according to NASA satellite measurements, and that rate is accelerating.  The total volume of the ice sheet is 700,000 cubic miles.  Scientists believe the buildup of heat-trapping gases in Earth’s atmosphere is the main culprit, . . .”  Sea rise of three feet by 2100 is seen as one possible consequence among others.  Hmm, might that affect Laguna Beach?

How is it that these facts–attested to by independent (no ties to big oil and coal or partisan think tanks), science-based research institutions–have escaped the attention of the two letter writers?  Admittedly, much more remains to be known about global climate change and consequent sea rise.  However, taking timely, effective action requires that we begin with an acknowledgement that these two phenomena are occurring and that humans are a huge part of the problem and the solution.  Saying this publicly is not “warm mongering;” it’s simply facing facts.


Tom Osborne, Laguna Beach

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