- Author: Jeannette Warnert
Reposted from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources news
Although individual extreme weather events cannot yet be reliably linked to global climate change, the warming planet may be contributing to recent weather disasters in California. Across the state, 129 million trees died as a result of the drought of 2011-2016, many of them in the Sierra Nevada. Last fall, the worst wildfires in the state's history whipped through wildland areas and neighborhoods, and then were followed by a January deluge and deadly mudslide.
Climate change is also impacting agriculture. The winter chill that farmers rely on to re-boot cherry, pistachio, walnut and other important fruit and nut crops has been curbed by unseasonably warm nighttime temperatures. Sustained summertime heat waves are damaging crops and putting diminishing water resources under stress.
Climate change isn't just about the planet. Increased frequency and intensity of climate extremes impact peoples' lives by forcing evacuations and migration from fire- and flood-prone areas, reducing the availability and safety of food, and dampening emotional well-being.
How can Californians grapple with climate change?
On the front lines of climate change education, mitigation and adaptation is UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), with its network of scientists headquartered throughout the state, living and working in communities where local climate change impacts must be addressed.
In 2015, UCCE's parent organization, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), formed a Climate Change Program Team to lead a coordinated effort by UC ANR staff and academics dealing with climate change. The team surveyed UC ANR academics to find out about their current role in California climate change resilience.
“Eighty percent of respondents thought incorporating climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation in their programs is important,” said UCCE specialist Ted Grantham, a member of the program team. “Less than half are actually doing so.”
The barriers respondents shared to working on climate change include technical complexity, lack of relevant information, and discomfort with the difficult conversations climate change can trigger. The program team brought together a diverse group of specialists, advisors and staff for a two-day workshop in February to increase capacity to raise public awareness about climate change, find practical ways to reduce the impacts of climate change, and help communities adapt to the reality of a changing planet.
Keynote speaker Michael Crimmins, a climate science extension specialist at the University of Arizona, said land-grant outreach programs have the interdisciplinary expertise and connections to provide decision support to farms and communities facing a warming world.
“Climate change is too big to tackle alone,” he said. “We have a lot of programs that can nibble at the edges. If everyone nibbled at the edge, we can make a difference.”
Resources are available for climate change extension
Myriad climate change resources were presented. UC Davis professor Arnold Bloom shared a free online college course posted at http://climatechangecourse.org. The course examines the factors responsible for climate change, the biological and social impacts, and the possible engineering, economic and legal solutions. Forty-eight mini-lectures, assignments and even exams are available to anyone willing to devote time to understanding climate change.
UCCE specialist Jeff Mitchell explained ongoing efforts to implement conservation agricultural practices on California row crop land. Research has shown the potential for climate change mitigation with precision irrigation and tillage reduction, practices that sequester carbon in the soil, reduce fertilizer needs, improve soil quality and increase yield.
Greg Ira, coordinator of the UC California Naturalist program, said a new advanced training module on climate stewardship is in development. The training will be provided to select certified California Naturalists, volunteers who work with partner organizations across the state on environmental stewardship, nature education and citizen science.
UCCE specialist Maggi Kelly introduced the website http://Cal-Adapt.org, which contains volumes of climate change projections and climate impact data from California's scientific community. Users can explore projected changes in temperature, precipitation, snowpack and sea level rise in California over this century with interactive climate data visualizations. They can download data, find peer-reviewed research and learn how to use climate projections.
Leslie Roche, UCCE rangeland management specialist, conducted rancher interviews after the 2011-2016 drought to gauge whether they consider climate change an important consideration for their ranching businesses, and whether they believe future climate will be different from the past. She found that ranchers are generally confident that they have the skills to manage for long-term drought, and that they are interested in learning about climate change and its potential impacts on their industry.
Roche has aggregated rangeland drought- and climate-management resources online at the Rangeland Drought Hub. The website includes “Voices from the Drought,” the personal stories of ranchers discussing the agonizing decisions they made during the drought – such as culling cattle, reducing staff, paying more for feed, and allocating limited water resources.
Steve Ostoja, the director of the USDA's California Climate Hub, said the program helps California farmers, ranchers, forest landowners and tribes maintain sustainable communities and ecosystems by adapting to climate variability and change. Guido Franco of the California Energy Commission said the organization recently released its fourth Climate Assessment. The assessment presents research on the impacts of climate change on the state, as well as strategies to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“I found the information and materials compiled by the Climate Change Program Team very useful,” Mitchell said. “I will be consciously using these in extension education when I can.”
UC California Institute for Water Resources academic coordinator Faith Kearns led a segment of the workshop on climate communication, taking into account the emotional side of climate change by practicing active listening and empathy building. She shared climate change communication strategies used by effective national advocates, such as Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and climate scientist who recommends a soft approach that starts by establishing personal connections with individuals before diving into climate science.
Another approach is that of Sarah Myhre, a climate scientist at the University of Washington who believes scientists should speak boldly about climate change facts.
“… scientists are naturally risk-averse when it comes to public dialogue,” Myhre wrote in an essay on Guardian.com. “The verbal, argumentative skills common to professions in law, politics, or business do not come easily to most scientists. … Our job is not to objectively document the decline of Earth's biodiversity and humanity, so what does scientific leadership look like in this hot, dangerous world?”
At the meeting, UCCE advisor John Karlik pointed out that some listeners want to hear straight science, just facts.
“We're all needed,” Kearns said. “We all come with a difference set of circumstances and groups that we can connect with.”
The workshop closed with action planning and next steps. Among the needs presented during the session were:
- A climate change online portal with resources, tools and data that allow advisors and specialists to translate information into decision support.
- Simplified scientific information and case studies to personalize climate change impacts.
- Training for educators, advisors, specialists and volunteers.
- Research-based evidence on the impacts of climate change on food security and the cost of healthy food.
- A glossary of climate change terms.
In their article on the climate change survey in California Agriculture journal, the members of the UC ANR Climate Program Team said they believe UCCE is well positioned to understand and communicate the consequences of climate change to the public, and to identify strategies to mitigate negative outcomes for local economies, the environment and public health.
“UC ANR can become a powerful catalyst for climate adaptation and we should embrace a leadership role in advancing the knowledge and tools needed for a climate-resilient California,” they wrote.
- Author: Glen Martin
Reposted from California Magazine
Santa Rosa and Sonoma County officials are now in the post mortem phase of the North Bay fire storms, asking what could've been done to avoid the tragedy and what can be done in the future to prevent similar conflagrations. Discussions largely have focused on tighter zoning and fire ordinances. Those are appropriate areas to focus on, say many wildfire experts, but municipalities and counties inevitably face pressures that make effective wildfire risk reduction difficult.
“As things stand, cities and municipal or regional agencies — like the East Bay Regional Park District or the East Bay Municipal Utility District — are responsible for dealing with fuel buildup and other potential fire safety issues,” says Joe McBride, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of landscape architecture and environmental planning. “Cites particularly are supposed to do annual inspections, notify people if there's a problem, and then take enforcement actions, including hiring contractors to do clean-up work and billing the homeowner. But people get resentful when local authorities try to vigorously enforce safety regulations. They bring their own pressures to bear, and then necessary things simply aren't done.”
Scott Stephens, a professor of environmental science, policy, and management at Cal, also believes city officials are often unable or unwilling to enforce strict fire ordinance options. The incentive for city council members and county supervisors is to encourage development and expand tax bases, Stephens says. As a result, homes are often built in wild land “interface” areas with extreme fire risk, such as the scorched Fountaingrove complex in Santa Rosa, and fire safety measures are either minimized or ignored altogether.
As Santa Rosa newspaper columnist and Sonoma County historian Gaye LeBaron has written, the Tubbs Fire that ravaged Santa Rosa could've been predicted; in 1964, another wildfire followed almost the exact same path. But that earlier fire burned mostly forest and agricultural land. Fountaingrove's pricey developments weren't put in until the 1990s, rammed through by local officials anxious for the tax revenues, and in apparent violation of an ordinance that proscribed development on ridge tops overlooking the Santa Rosa Valley.
Along with mushrooming development, ongoing climate change is resulting in hotter, drier, and longer fire seasons, affecting wildfire behavior in unexpected and catastrophic ways. That was evident in the Santa Rosa fires with the destruction of Coffey Park, a large tract of middle-class homes in western Santa Rosa far from any forested areas.
“Coffey Park was a huge surprise for me,” says Stephens. “I've never seen anything like it, and I had never expected to see anything like it. But you had this terrible confluence of events. Incredibly powerful, dry winds swept down eastward-facing canyons, and threw burning embers west clear across the Highway 101 corridor into Coffey Park, where they ignited dry leaves and other fuels. Now that we know these kinds of scenarios can play out, we need to prepare for them.”
How? McBride believes that it would be wise to divest cities of some of their regulatory authority and place it with the state. State agencies, he observes, are largely immune to both the blandishments and intimidation of local development bigwigs and are motivated by larger issues than municipal and county tax bases. He points to the California Coastal Commission as a promising template. Prior to the Coastal Commission's formation in 1972, development pressures along the state's incomparably beautiful coastline were increasing dramatically. It seemed certain that California's future would include a solid wall of strip malls and gimcrack bungalow developments from Crescent City to San Diego.
“Before the Coastal Commission was authorized, each coastal city planned for its own best interests in terms of zoning, and those interests weren't necessarily aligned with coastal preservation or access,” says McBride. “Once the commission started overseeing things, though, we got much better zoning and oversight of the coast. Most of the coast is now preserved. We avoided the ‘Miamification' of California that otherwise would've been inevitable. A similar agency for wildfire regulations and enforcement – essentially a California Fire Commission – might make similar progress in community fire protection in terms of zoning and enforcing clean-up and defensible space requirements.”
Stephens agrees with McBride that state authority is likely to be more effective than local agencies in establishing and enforcing effective fire regulations, and suggests that the University of California could also play a role.
“We have to educate as well as enforce, and in fact, education and cooperation at the community level may be the best way to accomplish fire safety goals,” Stephens says. “One of the tragic things about the Santa Rosa fires is that most of the fatalities were older people: 60 and older. People in neighborhoods in fire-vulnerable areas should meet regularly to identify older neighbors who may need help in evacuating, identify escape routes for different scenarios, and discuss risk reduction measures they could take.”
As far as Cal goes, continues Stephens, “UC Cooperative Extension [under the university's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources] maintains [agricultural and conservation] programs in every California county, so we already have a network of educators and communicators. We could coordinate with state agencies and the governor to create and implement wildfire safety and response programs that could be very effective. And because the basic structure is already in place, it wouldn't be very expensive.”
Both Stephens and McBride think certain types of ornamental trees should be minimized — even eliminated — from the urban landscape. Grasslands and native oak savannas burn readily, says McBride, but at a low intensity; grass fires can usually be countered relatively easily by firefighters. But some exotic trees, particularly eucalyptus and Monterey pine, are impregnated with oils and resins that burn explosively, often producing flame lengths of 200 feet or more and creating “spot” fires miles from primary blazes, making effective firefighting impossible.
“We really need to look at changing the landscape [in suburban and urban areas],” McBride says, “and that includes banning eucalyptus and other problematic trees as much as possible.”
McBride says some communities are approaching fire risk in a progressive and effective way, and they should be emulated.
“Landscaping at Sea Ranch [on the Sonoma Coast] largely consists of native grassland and prairie, and that provides a lot of security for the homes,” says McBride. “They also plow firebreaks throughout the development every year. They do have stands of native bishop pine, which burns with high intensity, but they prune and thin them to break up the fuel ladders, and that minimizes fire risk.”
The homes at Sea Ranch are modeled on the old barns of the ranchers who originally settled the Sonoma Coast, another factor that reduces fire risk, observes McBride.
“They don't have eves or roof overhangs, which is a very wise design feature in wildfire-prone areas,” says McBride. “Overhangs trap burning cinders driven by the wind, and encourage fires either on roofs and walls or in attics.”
Indeed, says McBride, modern architects and urban planners can learn about a lot about minimizing fire risk by studying some of the historic structures from California's past.
“Windows are a big entry point for heat,” says McBride. “In fact, heat from wildfires can transfer directly through windows and ignite walls opposite the windows without the glass breaking. When you go through the old Gold Rush towns in the Sierra, you see these stone buildings with big iron shutters that could be closed over the windows. That was a fire prevention strategy, and it was very effective. We don't need to make shutters from heavy iron sheets, of course, but we could certainly design shutters from modern materials for the large plate glass windows that are so popular in modern homes. The [Forty-Niners] really understood the risks of wildfires, and they designed their buildings with fires in mind. We need to do the same thing.”