Pacific Institute Insights

National Geographic ScienceBlog: Clarifying the Discussion about California Drought and Climate Change

By Peter Gleick, President

March 7, 2014

In the last few months, as the severe California drought has garnered attention among scientists, policymakers, and media, there has been a growing debate about the links between the drought and climate change. The debate has been marked by considerable controversy, confusion, and opaqueness.

The confusion stems from the failure of some scientists, bloggers, reporters, and others to distinguish among three separate questions. All three questions are scientifically interesting. But the three are different in their nuance, their importance to policy, and their interest to politicians and water managers. Here are the three different questions:

    1. Is the California drought caused by climate change?
    2. Is the California drought, no matter the cause, influenced or affected by climate changes already occurring?
    3. How will climate changes affect future drought risks in California?

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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

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