PD Editorial: Redwoods and a giant challenge
Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 at 3:47 p.m.
Like the thick fog that frequently shrouds the far North Coast, climate change stories can be awfully gloomy.
Let this week's news about thriving redwoods be a respite — a sunny afternoon before the inevitable return of cold reality.
These 1,000-year-old giants are growing faster than they ever have, according to research commissioned by the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. Why? It may be that coastal fog is dissipating because of rising temperatures, giving the huge trees greater access to nourishing sunlight.
“The fact that redwoods grow faster rather than slower as fog decreases, that surprised us,” Bill Libby, a UC Berkeley forestry professor who participated in the research, told Staff Writer Matt Brown.
This unexpected growth spurt is promising because trees, like all plants, soak up carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases fueling global climate change.
But — yes, like the fog rolling back in, our respite is ending — trees alone won't save us from the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change.
Another new report, this one issued by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, a branch of the state Environmental Protection Agency, offers a picture of changes already occurring.
The report reflects the work of scientists from UC, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other leading institutions.
Among their findings: sea level is rising, glaciers are shrinking, lakes are warming, so is the ocean. Temperatures, especially overnight lows, are higher. Snowmelt is producing less runoff, putting water supplies at risk. Wildfires are spreading, growing season is shorter, and plants and animals are migrating to higher elevations.
For far too long, fringe scientists and their enablers in the commentariat insisted that climate change is a hoax. But the evidence is irrefutable: Climate change is real, and it's here. To say otherwise is delusional.
Now comes a new claim: The planet will adapt — just look at the redwoods — so there's no need for humans to act. Another variant says we can't alter the path of nature, so there's no point in trying.
About the only optimistic note in the state EPA's report is a decline in atmospheric levels of heat-trapping gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. After rising for two decades, the report said levels started dropping last year, “the result of industries and vehicles becoming more energy efficient.”
Despite those gains, emissions in California are up 3 percent since 1990. The state's self-imposed goal is to return to 1990 levels by 2020.
To reach that benchmark, the state has enacted requirements for green energy and stringent emission standards for vehicles, oil refineries and power plants. Golden State residents are doing their part, too — driving fewer miles, trading in gas-guzzlers for hybrid vehicles and switching to more energy-efficient appliances.
A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found three-quarters in favor of even stronger steps to counter the effects of climate change.
This is a global problem, and Californians can't solve it by themselves. But the state and its residents are setting an example for our neighbors. Let's hope they follow.
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