Gov. Jerry Brown isn’t shooting for the moon on this one.
On Monday, the governor used an annual summit in Lake Tahoe to launch a new website to rebut skeptics of climate change, commonly referred to as global warming. California has implemented many programs and laws to lead the fight against emissions that contribute to climate change, and now Brown is using his bully pulpit to counter critics who deny there is a problem.
The issue is especially pressing for California, where miles of coastline, including here in the Bay Area, could be hit by rising sea levels, larger waves and higher storm surges in the coming decades. The best science we have points to the inescapable conclusion that emissions from human activity are preventing heat from escaping the atmosphere, causing our planet to warm. Such higher temperatures have myriad consequences, including altered weather patterns — such as droughts, scorching heat waves and stronger storms — and the rapid melting of polar ice, which adds more water to the oceans.
A recent report from the National Research Council pointed out that a sea level change could affect oceans around the world. But one key highlight was that the sea level along the California coastline could rise by more than 3 feet by 2100. For San Francisco, a city bordered on three sides by water, this is a critical topic to address. Thousands of residents and businesses near the ocean or Bay could be affected, as well as key infrastructure such as San Francisco International Airport.
With an urgent need to focus on the monumental task of working to curb future emissions and to plan for those climate changes that it’s too late to avoid, it is frustrating that effort must still be expended to combat climate change deniers. Too much energy is being wasted on peripheral fights that delay the real work that needs to be done. Many might remember “ClimateGate,” the investigation into emails stolen from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit in 2009 that allegedly showed scientists were exaggerating the perils of climate change. Years later, the core of the studies have held up, showing an overall warming of Earth. Fighting against such allegations merely diverts time from solving the real problems.
Choosing to deny a problem despite ample scientific evidence to the contrary is not unique to the climate change debate. In fact, the new website from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research — which focuses on four areas: climate science, the scientific consensus, the deniers and common denier arguments — includes a reference to another time of such denial. “Just as we reached a point where we stopped debating whether cigarette smoke causes cancer, we need to end the climate change debate and focus on how to solve the problem,” the website states.
As the clock ticks until California and the Bay Area see serious impacts from climate change in the form of sea level changes, debate on this topic needs to progress from “if” to “is.” The time to plan is now, not when the water reaches our doorsteps.