California’s climate crisis is rapidly worsening, affecting every resident and “increasingly taking a toll on the health and well-being of its people as well as its unique and diverse ecosystems,” according to new state data.
The ominous findings come from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Indicators of Climate Change in California Report.
“In California, the stark reality of climate change is clear: record-high temperatures, an unrelenting drought, and unprecedented wildfires.” “The evidence of the impacts of climate change on the health, safety, and well-being of the state’s residents continues to mount,” the report’s authors wrote.
The comprehensive report investigates the causes and consequences of climate change by examining 41 scientifically measured indicators provided by more than 100 experts from state and federal agencies, research institutions, and academia, as well as input from 40 Native American tribes.
The state’s recent extreme heat and multiyear drought are two of the most significant climate change impacts in California.
According to the climate change report, the entire state of California will be in drought by September 2021, with 88% in the most severe tiers of extreme to exceptional drought.
That represented a snapshot of a much longer trend: According to the report, the last two decades have been the driest in millennia, with a 2.5-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature since 1895, with that rise accelerating since the 1980s, according to Amy Gilson, CalEPA’s deputy director for external and legislative affairs.
“This is primarily driven by warmer nights, which are warming three times faster than daytime temperatures,” Gilson explained, noting that extreme heat events are becoming more common across the state.
According to CalEPA, the West Coast broke nearly 1,000 temperature records during a 10-day heat wave in September. Thousands of California residents were asked to ration their power use to avoid straining the grid as many areas baked in triple digit heat for several days.
As temperatures rise and precipitation decreases, annual snowpack and glaciers disappear from California’s high elevations, putting a strain on the state’s reservoir and river levels.
“The glaciers and snowfields in the Trinity Alps have virtually vanished,” Gilson said. “Some of the largest glaciers in the Sierra Nevada have lost 65% to 90% of their area.”
These melting glaciers represent a decrease in freshwater supplies, which is critical for ecological needs.
The salmon population suffers as freshwater supplies dwindle. It also has an impact on agricultural irrigation, as California grows more than a third of the country’s vegetables and 75% of its fruits and nuts, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Temperature changes are also having a negative impact on a wide variety of species.
“Bird populations in the Mojave Desert have collapsed,” Gilson said, adding that “75% to 85% of the mammals and birds surveyed in the Sierra Nevada have changed where they are living.” They’ve changed their altitudes.”
According to the report, the last 20 years have seen a significant increase in the number of wildfires erupting across California.
In 2020, wildfires charred more than 4 million acres, more than doubling the area burned in any other year on record.
Furthermore, half of the largest wildfires in the state’s history occurred in 2020 and 2021, exacerbated by hotter and drier weather and the ongoing megadrought. In general, the average number of acres burned has risen dramatically in recent years.
According to the report, climate change has an impact on human health. Heat-related illnesses among California workers nearly tripled between 2000 and 2017, disproportionately affecting farm workers, police officers, and firefighters.
According to the report, recent wildfires have also resulted in deaths and injuries, as well as widespread exposure to hazardous levels of wildfire smoke.
Native American tribes also pointed to climate change as a cause of soil erosion, the loss of wetlands and springs, the extinction of plants, and changes in animal migration patterns, all of which cause a shift in diet and cultural practices.
“These impacts are related to water, heat, wind, and fire hazards, as well as the lack of a return of water to the area,” Gilson explained.