New Climate-Change Reports Analyze CA's Challenges, Solutions

July 31, 2012

Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Public Affairs

The California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission (CEC) yesterday (Tuesday, July 31) released more than 30 reports by researchers at the University of California – 15 of them from UC Berkeley – and other academic institutions that detail the state’s vulnerabilities to climate change and pinpoint the economic and policy hurdles that need to be overcome to address them.

In a press announcement accompanying the release of the studies, Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird noted that “significant increases in wildfires, floods, severe storms, drought and heat waves are clear evidence that climate change is happening now. California is stepping up to lead the way in preparing for – and adapting to – this change. These reports use cutting-edge science to provide an analytical roadmap, pointing the way for taking concrete steps to protect our natural resources and all Californians.”

Laird and others appeared yesterday at a press conference in Sacramento, where Robert B. Weisenmiller, chair of the California Energy Commission, called the reports “historic” and praised the scientists who contributed.

“We scientists know that climate change is and will be significantly affecting the state’s energy supply and demand system,” he said. “The research in these assessments furthers our understanding of the impacts …. The challenges are enormous, but certainly this state has the capability to rise to those challenges, and with these types of studies we are going to be prepared. We will use these in the energy commission planning … to maintain a reliable grid, but also use this as a way of planning our research.”

Laird and Weisenmiller were joined at the press conference by Chief Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), who painted a grim picture of the state’s fire future. Of the 20 worst fires in California history, 11 have occurred since 2002, he said. The fire season in some areas has increased by an average of two months, and a few areas in Southern California now have a year-round fire season.

“Studies like those being released today are key in helping us move forward to prepare California” to deal with these large and damaging fires, said Pimlott.

State’s fire season longer, fires more intense

UC Berkeley fire expert Max Moritz, who contributed a paper about increased vulnerability to wildland fires in the state, has been warning of increasing fire danger for years.

“Our results reveal that California should prepare – regardless of the future we may face climatically – for quite different fire activity levels in the future,” said Moritz, a professor of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “Though our models continue to improve, we still don’t know which future climate scenario will actually emerge. The challenge is to learn to ‘coexist’ with this natural hazard and move toward fire-resilient ecosystems and fire-resistant urban development.”

Speaking for the more than 120 scientists in 26 teams who contributed to the studies, Susanne Moser, a Social Science Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, said that the report “spells out our new understanding of what climate change might mean to California. We are trying to inform the public, we are trying to inform the decision makers, with valuable information that they can use in … planning.”

Read the summary report.
Read the complete UC Berkeley press release.