Climate Change Questions and Answers Fact Sheet

Questions and Answers about Climate Change

Prepared by the Pacific Institute of Oakland, California, April 22, 2005 in support of California AB1365

Question: Is climate change real and is it really happening?

“After decades of studying climate change, a global consensus has emerged: Climate change is real, has already begun, and poses a grave threat to the United States and the world,” said Dr. Peter H. Gleick, an internationally recognized expert on climate change and water resources. Dr. Gleick is President of the Pacific Institute, a member of the United Nations Sigma Xi Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Advisory Group, and a 2003 MacArthur Fellow.

In fact, most of the world’s largest oil companies (Royal Dutch/Shell, British Petroleum, and ChevronTexaco) have all acknowledged that climate change is real, caused in part by humans, and requires action. Ron Oxburgh, chairman of Royal Dutch/Shell, has admitted that the threat of climate change makes him “really very worried for the planet” according to published reports. “No one can be comfortable at the prospect of continuing to pump out the amounts of carbon dioxide that we are pumping out at present… with consequences that we really can’t predict but are probably not good.”

Beyond Theory: Observable Signs of Climate Change

“These phenomena are complex, and there are many uncertainties, but we now have scores of irrefutable observations that show we are already changing the Earth’s climate,” noted Gleick. “These signs include higher global temperatures, losses of snow and ice, increased storm intensity, rising ocean levels, and changing behavior of plants and animals.”

According to a recent study by the British Antarctic Survey: “Most of the glaciers on the Antarctic peninsular are in headlong retreat because of climate change… An in-depth study using aerial photographs spanning the past half century of all 244 marine glaciers on the west side of the finger-like peninsular pointing up to South America found that 87 percent of them were in retreat — and the speed was rising.”

According to Sir David King, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, climate change is “the most severe problem we face today…”

Question: How will climate change affect California?

1) Climate change is expected to increase sea levels, placing low-lying coastal areas at greater risk of flooding, erosion, and salt-water intrusion

According to a report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Sea levels along the California coast will likely continue rising over the next century… Consequences could be especially severe during El Niño years, when sea levels and coastal waves along the California coast are already unusually high and winter storms can bring torrential rains. Higher sea levels could also allow saltwater intrusion into aquifers and the rich ecosystems found at the mouths of rivers.”

The report goes on to note that ” San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, which can increase the risk of storm damage, erosion, and flooding of leveed islands, valuable real estate, and rich wetland eco-systems.”

According to a Pacific Institute report published in 1990, a one meter sea level rise would cost several billion dollars to protect against and that “We think it unlikely that the status quo around the Bay can be maintained under conditions of expected sea-level rise, even with extensive efforts to build protective structures.”

2) Climate change is predicted to play havoc with California’s water supply

According to Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute: “Climate change won’t just result in warmer temperatures. One of the most troubling impacts of unchecked climate change involves California’s water supply. Global warming will change when and where we get snow and rain. If our snow pack melts too quickly or if water that falls as snow turns to rain, we’ll see more flooding in the winter and less water during the summer when we need it most.” Dr. Gleick was lead author of the U.S. National Assessment report for water resources.

According to Professor Lisa Sloan, University of California, Santa Cruz: “With less precipitation falling as snow and more as rain, plus higher temperatures creating increased demand for water, the impacts [of climate change] on our water storage system will be enormous.”

3) California’s agricultural sector, environment and the health of its residents could be seriously affected by Climate Change

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Higher temperatures could also affect California’s leading agricultural products, reducing dairy production and diminishing the quality of wine grapes in all but the coolest grape growing regions.” According to the same report, Climate change may increase the number of heat related deaths in California, unless preventative measures or taken, and, climate change, is likely to alter California’s natural environment significantly.

Question: Isn’t climate change a global issue, not a state issue?

Climate change is clearly a global issue – greenhouse gases from around the world combine in the atmosphere. However, there are several reasons California should take the lead among U.S. states: California contributes substantially to greenhouse gas emissions, we are a leader in renewable technology and thus could benefit economically by encourage efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions; and by “leading by example” we would encourage other states and the federal government to act in concert with us.

Question: Won’t the costs of responding to climate change hurt our economy?

Responding to climate change could actually help our economy, by stimulating new industries, by taking actions before other states do, and by helping to reduce long-term impacts. California is already a leader in the clean, high-tech industries that create solar installations and develop and build other kinds of renewable technology. The state is home to several of the largest solar system builders in the United States, PowerLight in Berkeley and Pacific Power Management in Auburn.

According to the head of British Petroleum, the oil company is on target to reduce green house gas emissions by 10% below 1990 levels by 2010 – twice the rate set out in the Kyoto treaty. And, even more surprisingly, British Petroleum hit its target at no net economic cost.

Question: Do we have the technology to respond to climate change now?

According to Xcel energy CEO Wayne Brunetti, we have the technology to significantly reduce emissions: “Give us a date, tell us how much we need to cut, give us the flexibility to meet the goals, and we’ll get it done.”

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