California has more droughts, wildfires and illness as climate change impacts accelerate.
The fourth edition of the state’s “Indicators of Climate Change in California,” shows that these impacts are hitting California more quickly and more strongly than expected. Published by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the report says that half of the state’s 20 largest wildfires occurred in 2020 and 2021, heat waves have doubled in frequency in some areas, and glaciers are rapidly disappearing.
Yana Garcia, secretary of California EPA, stated that the report shows how some of our glaciers are almost gone forever and how a hotter, drier planet is threatening public health .”
” “In many ways this paints a pretty grim image,” Garcia stated to reporters during a briefing.
Garcia highlighted the state’s efforts to address climate impacts, including $54 billion in its fiscal 2022-23 budget to deal with drought, reduce wildfire risk, transition away from fossil fuels and tackle other climate-related issues. She also highlighted the state’s influence outside its borders, such a mandate to sell increasing amounts of zero-emission vehicles. This has been adopted by other countries.
California is enacting climate policy but it also has to deal with climate impacts that are worsening. Tuesday’s report comes after a 10-day heat wave in September shattered nearly 1,000 temperature records across the state.
The report found that daytime heat waves increased more than twice in five of the five locations it was studied. Prior to 1950, such events averaged one to three per year; now, they occur five to six times a year. Nighttime heat waves similarly increased to five to seven per year at 10 locations, according to the report, with one area seeing as many as 10 heat waves annually.
This raises concerns about outdoor workers who are often found in areas that are prone to heat waves. Garcia said. Data from workers’ compensation claims and heat-related illness reported by California workers increased about threefold from 2000 to 2017, officials said.
Part of the $54 billion in state climate funding goes toward dealing with extreme heat, Garcia said. California is currently developing the nation’s first heat ranking system. However, it’s not expected that it will be available until 2025..
The report also revealed that snowfields and glaciers have disappeared in the Trinity Alps between Trinity County in Northern California and Eureka. In the Sierra Nevada, some of the largest glaciers have lost 65 to 90 percent of their area.
” This has important ecological consequences as well as impacts water availability for other uses,” stated Amy Gilson, deputy director of legislative and external affairs at the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
These snowfields and glaciers act as reservoirs and release cold water for species like salmon. Gilson stated that the Salmon River and spring-run Chinook salmon numbers “have flatlined over the past five years.”
There has been an increase in health-related problems related to climate change such as valley fever.
Valley fever can be caused by a fungus found in soils and dust in the southwest U.S. It is transmitted by inhaling spores from the air, Gilson stated.
The report found a fivefold increase in people with the disease from 2001 to 2021. Gilson stated that climate change is likely to be one of the causes. The spores are more effective in dry and hot conditions.
Another factor that can lead to worsening conditions is tree deaths. An estimated 170 million trees died between 2010 and 2021, peaking in 2016, the fourth year of an extreme drought, according to the report.
This meant that there were more flammable fuels which increased the risk of wildfires. 2020, saw an estimated 4.2 million acres of state burned, more than twice the amount burned in any other year. California’s first “gigafire” occurred in that same year when the August Complex blazed more than 1,000,000 acres in seven counties.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from