On January 9, the University of Redlands and public radio station KPCC partnered to present a panel discussion on the effects of climate change in the Inland Empire.
Held in the Glenn Wallichs Theatre and broadcast live, the event—titled “Hotter, Drier, And On Fire: Will The IE Still Be Livable In 2100?”—examined how the more than 4 million people in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties will face the possibilities held by a future on a warming planet.
KPCC Senior Science Reporter Emily Guerin, representing KPCC In Person, moderated the discussion with: Tim Krantz, professor of environmental studies at University of Redlands; Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of Climate Resolve; Kurt Schwabe, professor of environmental economics and policy at University of California Riverside; and Andrea Vidaurre, policy analyst at the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
Here are excerpts from their remarks (edited for clarity).
We're seeing [the effects of climate change] in Australia today. This is the textbook case where the desert temperatures there just before Christmas exceeded all-time record high temperatures. The central part of the Great Sandy Desert in Australia is expanding towards the coast. Well, we can expect to see that here, too. Nine of the 10 worst wildfires in California have been since 2003. The most disastrous have been in 2017 and 2018, just the last couple of years after our extreme droughts.
The cost of those fires [involved] public or private utility companies’ power lines coming down in wind events. They spark and become [fire] sources. In Southern California, all of our big energy projects are out in the desert, then they have to transmit through the passage where the windiest conditions are. An obvious solution would be distributed energy on rooftops. If we generated more solar energy on rooftops, we wouldn't need the distribution networks. The problem is that, with private utility companies, they can't sell [energy] to you in the same way they would with their own generated power. So we have an industrial reluctance to go in that direction.
We have all of the technological solutions—renewable energy technologies, new building strategies for making more energy efficient homes, etc. But what really gives me hope at the end of the day is all my students. I've seen this tremendous change in the last 10 years in student engagement and concern.
[We’re going to see an] increase in the number of hot days, more intense droughts, more flooding, more wildfires. And we’ll see stress on both our managed and unmanaged systems … Stress results in things breaking down and negative impacts. Our ecosystems, the electricity sector, the transportation sector, the water sector—they're all under significant stress.
Our [water] system was built given a certain type of run off, and that runoff is going to change under climate change because it is warmer. And those rainfall events are less frequent and more intense. We just don't have the capacity right now to capture that water and convey it to where it's supposed to be. That has to be a significant investment that the state makes and that is supported by voters.
Where you probably get your most return in terms of water savings right now is through outdoor irrigation reduction—either converting your landscapes to more drought-tolerant, Mediterranean-friendly, or California-friendly landscaping or improving your irrigation efficiency. You can get a long way just by irrigating based on the grass’s or the plants’ needs. Sixty percent of our water use in urban environments is for irrigation—that's really where the gains can be made at low cost.
If we're able to mitigate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, we can actually stabilize the temperature in the Inland Empire. The [predicted] 8 to 9 degree Fahrenheit [rise in temperature] is a scary number. But if we do the right thing, [and] we're able to reduce our emissions, I think it would stabilize at maybe 4 or 5 degrees. The thing we're very concerned about is making this so apocalyptic that people just throw up their hands and walk away. The reality is that we do have tools at our disposal to take on some of that added warming. For example, in Los Angeles we changed the building code so every new or refurbished roof has to be a “cool roof” [reflecting the heat]. And we're now experimenting with “cool streets” and enhancing the tree canopy in our poorest communities, where there are very few trees, as a way of cooling down the city. Those are tools that can be replicated everywhere.
Currently, we have a mindset that working on climate change is an added cost, that we have our public works budget, police budget, and fire budget, and we think those things are going to stay the same. But with climate change we're going to see more fire, more [need for] paramedics, greater impacts on our public health services, so the investments we make today [such as high density housing developments near public transportation] can save us money into the future. … We can make that case to policy makers so they realize these investments will save money over the long haul.
California, if it were its own independent country, would be the fifth largest economy on the planet, and we've been reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There has been this big lie that this is costly and it's going to hurt the economy, where the fossil fuel companies have been externalizing their costs on the rest of us for decades, if not centuries. What gives me hope is that California, if it sticks to the plan, can be a model for other states and other nations... I don't want other countries or states to follow us because we're virtuous; I want them to follow us because we're leading into the future and we're optimistic about our future because we've done the right thing and we're enthusiastic about what tomorrow might bring.
We're telling people you have to either choose a job or being able to breathe instead of saying, “Why can't we have both?” Why can't we find a sustainable balance with the economic development in the region so we're not putting all our eggs in one basket? There's a problem with diversification of employment in the Inland Empire. We focus a lot in one in one area, in one sector, and, unfortunately, that's the sector that's actually contributing to this problem. In the region we have to figure out how we mitigate what we have right now. If you ask anyone in the region, they would say, “There's a lot of logistics growth; there are a lot of warehouses; there are a lot of trucks.” We are on the way to electrifying [vehicles], which would cut those emissions down, but we've got a couple more years left. Are we going to continue growing? We need to have a bigger plan, a sustainable plan.
[I am enthusiastic about electric vehicles because they] cut the diesel pollution off. There are so many communities here suffering from diesel pollution. They are literally dying from it, as diesel is a known carcinogen. [Electrifying] is a win-win—a win for our climate goals and a win for people suffering right now. I'm also excited about some of the local policies; we are trying to figure out ways to regulate some of the industries so different industries in the region can get more rooftop solar.
[What gives me hope is] the people we meet through the work that we do—people taking this issue as their own, going out on the streets, being vocal about it. [They engage] not only at demonstrations, but also [through] door knocking, meeting their neighbors, telling people about the issue, and really caring about their local community out here in the Inland Empire. They find time to spread the word, go out and tell an elected official they're upset, or fly to the capitol and tell representatives what's really happening here. They give me hope.