Global warming is hitting closer to home than we think, from a neighborhood child gasping with asthma to a parent collapsing from heatstroke. These realities led U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to assert in April that climate change presents the most complex threat to public health in U.S. history.
The effects can be direct, for instance the injuries sustained during a strong flood, or they can be indirect, such as the decline in crop production. But Public Health Institute's Linda Rudolph sees another emotional layer when it comes to the human populace. "It's an existential threat because climate change threatens our air, our water, our food, our shelter and our security."
For agricultural companies in California, the drought continues to cast a shadow on their output. Certain areas of the state are faring better than others. Executive Director of Sustainable Conservation, Ashley Boren, sees it as a localized issue. "In the northern part of the [San Joaquin Valley] it's not nearly as severe as it is in the southern part of San Joaquin Valley where a lot of farmers still aren't getting allocations of water."
Some argue that the lack of precipitation isn't the true cause of the current agricultural water shortages. Instead, the Almond Board's Gabriele Ludwig argues, regulators are shutting off the tap for a variety of reasons. "It can be for fish, it can be for temperature, it can be for salt."
A new bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein is proposing to pause the more stringent regulations of the Endangered Species Act for the sake of drought relief. Thompson admires her ambition but admits, "I still question whether or not it's going to leave the environment where the protections are necessary." He also worries that it won't pass the Senate, a sentiment echoed by Ludwig. "Senator Feinstein is one of the few people who could actually potentially make that happen." Boren sees room for improvement, for instance shifting the focus from single species health to whole ecosystem health. State Water Resources Control Board's Max Gomberg is unconvinced. "The state's position is you don't go undoing federal legislation that's been around for decades and is important to preserving our environmental values."
The global effects of climate disruption will have local impacts on the Bay Area. The political leaders of this region are already planning for a future with a new normal.
Clean-tech is a field that both provides sustainable solutions and boosts local economies. San Jose is brimming with such companies, notably Tesla, which has consistently progressed EV technology at a rapid pace, and SunPower, a global leader in developing efficient solar panels. San Jose's Mayor Sam Liccardo is proud to have "a lot of the companies that are really going to transform and hopefully decarbonize our economy."
While cities like San Jose focus on their core emissions, Oakland is concentrating on its consumption. That means looking at the greenhouse gas trail emitted by products manufactured outside city limits but purchased in city limits. "So far," says Mayor Libby Schaaf, "we've reduced [consumption] by 14 percent and that is during a growing economy." The city's efforts include zero waste goals, aggressive recycling, and curbside pickup of food waste, which gets converted to energy and sold back to the grid.
Executive Director, Sustainable Conservation
Gregory Dalton is chief operating officer at the Commonwealth Club of California and Director of The Club's Climate 1 Initiative. He previously was international editor at The Industry Standard magazine, an editor for the Associated Press in New York, and a correspondent in China and Canada for the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper.
Proficient in both Mandarin and Cantonese, he is a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Director of Health Professional Outreach and Education, Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, UCSF
Mayor, San Jose
Director, Sustainability & Environmental Affairs, Almond Board of California
Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCSF
Director, Center for Climate Change and Health, Public Health Institute
Director, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University