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DATE: February 19, 2001
CONTACT: Ansje Miller, Redefining Progress: 510-444-3041

Environmental Groups Document Effects of Global Warming in California

Leading Scientists Issue Toughest Warning Yet in New Report

OAKLAND—In response to a new report issued by the world's leading authority on global warming, the Sierra Club, Redefining Progress and Greenpeace announced today that global warming is having a major impact on California and will continue to cause problems if not addressed immediately. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that human populations and the world's ecosystems are threatened by the worsening heat waves, floods, drought, extreme weather and spreading infectious diseases caused by global warming.

"The world's leading scientists have issued their toughest warning yet on global warming today," said Sanjay Ranchod, Chair of Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Committee. "But it doesn't take a scientist to see the problems that global warming is causing in our region."

The environmental groups described how California could be affected by global warming:

  • Heat related deaths, which affect people of color twice as much as whites, are projected to increase from 68 in 1997 to 93 by 2020, and 118 by 2050 for Los Angeles.
  • Temperatures in California could increase by about 5F by 2100. Since 1900, the average temperature in Fresno, has increased more than 1F, and precipitation has decreased by up to 20% in many parts of the state.
  • Along much of California's coast, sea level already is rising by 3-8 inches per century (3 inches at Los Angeles, 5 inches at San Francisco, and 8 inches at San Diego), and it is likely to rise by another 13-19 inches by 2100. Cumulative costs of protecting California's coastline from a 20-inch sea level rise through 2100 could be $174 million to $3.5 billion.
  • Increased winter flows to San Francisco Bay could increase the risk of flooding. The fragile environment of the bay's delta islands could be at risk from increased flooding and the upstream movement of saltwater from the bay.
  • Global warming could have an impact on many of California's species and habitat. For example, between 1992 and 1996 the range of the bay checkerspot butterfly shifted 130 miles to the north and to higher altitudes as a result of climate change.

Last month, the IPCC released a report that projected the earth's temperature will rise as much as 10.4 degrees F by 2100 and concluded that man-made global warming pollution has "contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years."

The impacts of this warming are not distributed equally. The poor and communities of color will be disproportionately impacted by diseases, respiratory problems related to air pollution, and deaths and disease related to thermal extremes, because of the distribution of impacts and access to healthcare. "Climate Change is a life and death issue for the poor and people of color communities who will be unable to get out of harms way" said Ansje Miller, of Redefining Progress. "This report highlights the injustice of US inaction in the face of climate change. It is time to get our heads out of the sand and take the steps necessary to curb global warming pollution." Jose Bravo, of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice said, "Given the fact that we live in communities already so devastated by environmental and health problems, it is particularly unjust that our communities are left out of the negotiating process."

The impacts of this warming do not stop in California. For example, as the ranges of infectious diseases have shifted, millions of Americans have been exposed to potential outbreaks. Already malaria outbreaks have occurred as far north as New York and Michigan, and Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah have all seen hantavirus outbreaks. Texas experienced a dengue fever outbreak in 1995 and an encephalitis outbreak closed Florida's Disney World for three days in 1997. Other impacts include melting permafrost in Alaska, marsh destruction in the Chesapeake, sea level rise in California, melting glaciers in Glacier National Park, and the worst drought Texas has experienced in 104 years. Additionally, heat waves killed 250 people across the Eastern U.S. in 1999, and 665 across the U.S. in 1995.

The report comes at the same time that the California energy crisis and the national energy debate require elected officials to decide whether to prioritize building new fossil fuel power plants - the source of one-third of the pollution that causes global warming in the U.S. - or building advanced clean power sources such as wind and solar energy. The state legislature is considering options to mandate that 20% of California's energy comes from renewables, to give greater tax incentives for citizens to use solar energy and to allocate $1.2 billion to energy efficiency. "Already, a wind power plant can be built in six months and produce energy for merely 3-5 cents/kWh, making it the cheapest, cleanest and fastest means of getting power to the people in California. The answer, Governor Davis, is blowing in the wind," said Phil Radford, Global Warming Campaigner for Greenpeace USA.

"This latest report just gives further evidence that if we continue to ignore global warming we will see more sea level rise, floods, droughts, deadly heat waves and outbreaks of deadly and infectious diseases," said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program. "But there is hope. We can avoid additional disasters by increasing fuel economy standards and energy efficiency standards and investments in clean, renewable energy. Not only will this save us from global warming, but it will lead to long-term energy security and save consumers money."

"This is a wake-up call for President Bush and Congress to act now to cut global warming pollution," said Ranchod.