I want to convey the seriousness and urgency of this moment, but not induce panic or hopelessness. Whether we constrain Climate Change (CC) at the optimistic 1.5 C or the business as usual 3.5 C, we can still make positive changes that will benefit our region.
CC is happening. We are the cause. This is not up for debate any longer. We cannot undo the damage that has already occurred, but it is not too late to act.
I’m going to take a speed tour of the impacts of CC on our region.
Then we’ll examine our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and where we can make the greatest reductions.
Terminology: Science speak to English translation
Climate: what you expect
Weather: what you get (short-term fluctuations)
Normal: average over 30 years of statistics, recomputed on the 10s, eg 1981-2010
We’ve already warmed 0.8 C over what would have happened if we hadn’t spewed so much CO2 & the rate is accelerating and the warming is not uniform over the earth.
This is not a model prediction. This is the actual warming we’ve experienced over the last 30 years. U of AK climatologist Brian Brettscheider had the insight that, at the end of this year, we will compute the normals again by subtracting the average over the eighties (the decade of 1981-1990) and adding the 2010s (2011-2020). He took an early look using the first 9 yrs of the 2010s. 2011-2019 - (1981-1990)
The earth has warmed 0.8 C since 1850, but roughly 0.5 C took place in the last 30 yrs. (Climatologists use a longer time average so the results may vary slightly. Nevertheless, 0.5 C warming over 30 years is very dramatic and scary.)
Here’s a closeup. Although we’ve only warmed up about 1 C, the areas from which we draw our water have warmed up to 4 C.
I cribbed this from LAC’s sustainability plan that Kristen Torres Pawling will talk about later. Our County imports river water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta & the CO river basin through Metropolitan Water District. LA City also imports water from the Owens Valley in the southern Sierras through DWP. This is not sustainable or just, even without climate change.
Now I will show a climate projection of likely precipitation changes. Keep in mind that, for every 1 C of warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water. Air, plants and soil become thirstier. We’ll also have less frequent rain, especially in the springtime, which leads to longer fire seasons.
What rain we do get, will come in more intense storms, which will make managing runoff more difficult. Less water will wind up in the rivers. Wildlife will need more water to stay cool on a warmer earth. The CO river basin has already dried up 20% since the 1980s and will continue to dry up. Some estimate the flow will reduce to half by the end of this century. Furthermore, federal courts have affirmed that roughly 20% of the CO river water were awarded by treaty to sovereign tribes.
I’ve shown you water scarcity, now I’m going to show water overabundance. Luckily, our region is not prone to hurricanes. But we need to prepare for stronger atmospheric rivers that persist over small areas for longer times. That’s due to irreversible changes in the jet stream due to polar ice cap melting. Notice this brown dot near the Oroville dam breach and Reno’s catastrophic flooding.
Then there is sea level rise. Our sea ports move 40% of our nation’s container ship volume, and much of it will be underwater in the medium CC scenario. Even areas that are above the rising seas will still be affected by sunny day flooding and salt water intrusion into aquifers, thus threatening our local water supplies.
Water insecurity--too much or too little--and the nexus between energy and water, is a huge concern and I hope to hold a future meeting around that.
Longer dry seasons will stretch the fire season. Changes to the jet stream will make Santa Anas more frequent and longer in duration. This leads to increased fire danger and air pollution build up.
To an atmospheric scientist, the pretty sunset in the title slide shows several days’ worth of pollution, stacked up like bathtub rings against the atmospheric lid of a wintertime inversion layer.
Now that I’ve scared you, let’s transition to problem solving.
We’ll start by examining our county’s GHG emissions. We need to bring down our emissions budget down by about half overall. We’re an urban area so there isn’t much direct agricultural emissions. Transportation, ⅔ of which is private automobiles, is the 800# gorilla. If you add up the oil refineries in the energy industries slice, transportation accounts for over half of our GHG emissions. There is simply no way to to achieve a stable and livable climate without drastically reducing our transportation emissions.
California overall is similar with 41% of 2017 GHG emissions from transportation. It's frustrating that so much attention is paid to electricity generation, which only releases 15% of our GHG total budget, and yet we ignore the elephant in the room.
Responsibility for climate change is highly unequal. I’m showing Rancho Sante Fe (in San Diego County) because I didn’t want to single out any LA County cities. This is a map by household size, not per capita emissions. These green areas in the urban core often have the highest HH size as families struggle to make rent in overcrowded apartments, so the per capita inequality is even more stark. We can choose to eat less meat and better insulate our homes on our own, but the really meaningful change in transportation requires collective action.
There’s simply a geometry problem in our streets. We give the most space to the most inefficient form of transportation. We let buses holding 80 people sit in traffic behind cars holding an average of 1 person each. We even let people store personal property, in the form of cars, on the streets. Often for free! Then we tell bicyclists to get off the road because there is no room for them.
Parking is another geometry problem. It’s also a chicken and egg problem. The more hellish we make it for people outside of cars, the more we push people into cars. Then we need more space to put those cars. Parking minimums for apartments have doubled from 1 to 2 spaces since 1960, raising housing costs. (Data from Mikhail Chester, Andrew Fraser, Juan Matute, Carolyn Flower, and Ram Pendyala
Parking Infrastructure: A Constraint on or Opportunity for Urban Redevelopment? A Study of Los Angeles County Parking Supply and Growth
Journal of the American Planning Association, 2015, 81(4), pp. 268-286, doi: 10.1080/01944363.2015.1092879)
Look at this lovely mid-Wilshire area apartment building that is not legal to build today.
Parking pushes us apart, making travel distances longer. Buses are slow because they are impeded by cars. Give buses dedicated bus lanes and they can beat private cars. It’s cheap, too. If you speed a city bus up from 9 to 18 mph, you double bus frequency with no additional drivers and buses. All it takes is some paint and enforcement.
Some people say that our region is too spread out for bikes. Traffic congestion and parking time make bikes faster for short trips. Longer trips can be combined with transit. Increasing density along transit corridors so people can live full lives with fewer cars is working around the world and it can work here, too.
Take it from decarbonization expert and CMU professor, Costa Samaras. eBikes are the future. While his research shows that an electric car has ½ the CO2 emissions of an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) one, an eBike beats both.
I can eBike 50-100 miles with the energy it takes to move a Tesla just 1 mile. Factor in parking time, and eBikes beat cars, even on a normal afternoon on the 405. BTW, cars are a leading source of urban heat. Add the concrete needed to support cars and they are the leading cause of urban heat. The background is the August 2019 SoCal air quality maps from airnow.gov, an EPA website.
In summary, decarbonizing transportation has the highest potential for stopping CC, but it requires collective action. We can’t choose to bike along a street that doesn’t create a safe space for us or take a bus to an evening concert if the buses don’t operate at night. An urban area is precisely where these two modes can excel, if we let them. We don’t need a solution that works in Iowa or New Hampshire or even Fresno. We have the existing density and the weather to do this right here, right now. Let’s paint those streets Green & Red.
Transportation Actions Now
- Make driving alone the last, not first resort.
- Reallocate road space from cars (especially on-street parking along arterials)
- Bike lanes network
- Bus lanes network
- Smaller, more efficient cars (both in space and GHG)
- Vision Zero like you mean it
Housing Actions NowHelp climate refugees...
- …move closer to work so they can get out of cars
- …move out of fire corridors & landslide zones
- …move out of low-lying coastal zones & flood plains
- …move to cooler microclimates near the coast
- Reduce parking minimums
- Support laws that speed up housing production (SB 50)
Water Actions Now
- Educate your communities about the risk
- Prepare for loss of imported river water
- Build stormwater capture projects
- Continue conservation (but diminishing returns)
- Expand water recycling; legalize potable reuse
- Consider desalination
- Move fast, with existing technology
- Continue research, but don’t fixate on shiny vaporware
- Don’t replace one injustice with another
- Cleaner air and water
- Better mobility and public health
- A more just and cohesive society