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Environment Report: This Is What Global Warming Feels Like

The opposition to a sand mine is East County is intense, community choice could have another big week and more in our biweekly roundup of environmental news. 

Image via Shutterstock

The repeated and dire predictions about climate change can blur together.

But a streak of rare and unbearable humidity in San Diego combined with recent record hot ocean water seemed to be a wake-up call for our region: This is what global warming feels like.

With that in mind, there have been a few important recent reports at every level of government on what is headed our way.

Local: At the end of September, the state released a report on what climate change likely means for San Diego. Sea level rise is one major danger, and could cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year and render parts of the coast unlivable.

But perhaps the most palpable and widespread change will be the increasingly hot days across the county. Historically, the hottest day of the year is no more than 100 degrees near the coast and 115 inland. By the end of the century, the hottest day could be 110 at the coast and 125 inland.

Soon, more people may be living where it’s hottest. Right now, most people live in the third of the county nearest to the coast. Population growth is changing that as developers push to build further and further inland. Modeling suggests the amount of developed land will increase by 180 to 280 square miles in the next several decades.

Locally, there is a mish-mash of efforts to better understand how climate change will affect San Diego. Some cities, like Imperial Beach, have been intently studying the threat from the rising ocean, while others have been slower to care. There’s a lot more science left to be done, too — researchers aren’t sure, for instance, if the marine layer will become more common along the coast, which could help offset temperature increases, or if it will disappear, making things even worse.

There are also serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like the city of San Diego’s climate action plan. There are less serious efforts, too, like the county’s climate action plan, which courts have repeatedly found to be too weak.

National: The Trump administration recently announced it would stop trying to increase fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. To accompany that decision, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studied what it would mean for the environment and conceded that burning more gasoline would contribute to catastrophic global warming.

But, as the Washington Post reported, the administration said because other things contribute to climate change, and because having more efficient cars would not in and of itself roll back climate change, it was OK to instead do nothing. “The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed,” the newspaper noted.

International: The fatalism is not new. The Trump administration last year withdrew from a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That agreement was known as the Paris Agreement and it was supposed to ensure that global temperatures didn’t rise by 2 degrees Celsius.

While it’s going to be tough to meet that goal, it’s probably not ambitious enough, according to a report released recently by the International Panel on Climate Change. The world’s temperatures have already risen by a degree Celsius since the beginning of the industrial age. The panel says another half degree increase will be bad enough, and we should do everything possible to avoid a full degree increase — more ice will melt, the oceans will rise higher, more people’s homes and livelihoods will be destroyed, more habitat will be forever altered, more animals will die. The panel suggested a series of aggressive actions that include sweeping changes to how people live their lives, including major steps not only to reduce emissions but to remove already-emitted gases from the air by planting lots and lots of trees.

“Every bit of warming matters,” Hoesung Lee, the chairman of the panel, said during a press conference in South Korea.

Contentious Plans for the San Diego River

Recently, VOSD has looked at efforts to restore or at least make enjoyable parts of the San Diego River by taking part of the Qualcomm Stadium site and turning it into a river park.

In contrast, a developer in East County is pushing ahead with plans to build a sand mine in a dried-up stretch of the river. The project, which has been proposed in various forms over the years, is picking up steam.

Opposition is intense. Neighbors don’t want to live near a dusty mining operation. The Barona Band of the Mission Indians is concerned that the mine will disturb their ancestors’ remains and historical artifacts. As we wrote in 2015, the project has an interesting ally: Michael Beck, one of the county’s leading environmentalists and a member of the county’s planning commission. He hopes that once the mining is finished, the land will return to how it looked a century ago and will be conserved thereafter.

Another (Maybe) Big Week for Community Choice

For months, advocates of “community choice energy” have been waiting for a ruling from the California Public Utilities Commission that will determine how affordable it will be for communities to start government-run agencies to buy electricity. This “exit fee” ruling will likely determine whether the city of San Diego decides to form an agency to compete with San Diego Gas & Electric. The city’s goal is to provide cheaper and greener power. The city, as part of its climate action plan, wants power sold within city limits to be green by 2035, but SDG&E has so far not come up with a plan to make that happen.

Meanwhile, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association dropped out of the Clear the Air Coalition, a group backed by SDG&E’s parent company that has been fighting community choice. The head of the taxpayer’s group, Haney Hong, said he remains skeptical the government can buy energy efficiently, but “we are committed to being an independent, nonpartisan voice for taxpayer interests. While we agree with much of what Clear the Air Coalition has to say about CCAs, we realized that there are even more complicated taxpayer concerns that we needed to highlight on our own.”

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce remains a member but is worried that a major misstep by a city-run power-buying agency could put the city’s coffers at risk.

In Other News

  • Last week’s water main break in North Park was not the first in that neighborhood. There have been three breaks in the past year. Evan Walker, a La Jolla attorney, told me that if flooding has damaged people’s property, they need to know they may have only six months to file a claim against the city. Even then, he said, “It’s very difficult to get what I consider a reasonable sum.” (10News)
  • For years, Lake Mead — the reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam — has been a thermometer of the Colorado River’s waning ability to provide water to the American southwest and Mexico. Now, there’s another problem. Lake Powell — the reservoir formed by the Glen Canyon Dam — is also ailing, a sign that Colorado and its neighboring states may also be in trouble. (Water Deeply)
  • Some polluters are getting credit and money for making pollution reductions they would have made anyway. (Union-Tribune)
  • Californians are rebuilding homes destroyed by fires. Should they be? (KQED)
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