California 'cannot save itself' from global warming

  • Tuesday 17 August 2004

The California wine industry is inevitably doomed by the end of the century, with global warming causing increased heatwaves and disrupting irrigation, researchers have found.

In the first study to specifically forecast the impact of global warming on a US state, scientists from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and elsewhere, predicted California ‘cannot save itself.’

Computer models of global warming showed California’s weather getting hotter and drier, the snowpack melting in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and heatwaves occurring seven times more than at present.

With emissions continuing at the present rate, ‘there will be consequences over the coming decades that are truly, truly serious,’ Carnegie’s Christopher Field, who led the study, told Reuters.

The predictions are based on a low-emissions trajectory and a high emissions trajectory. The former trajectory shows emissions continuing at the present rate. High emissions mean 28bn tons of carbon per year – about four times the present rate of 6-7bn tons per year.

Under the worst scenario, heat waves in Los Angeles are six to eight times more frequent, with up to seven times as many heat-related deaths as now. The Sierra snowpack falls by 90 percent.

But even if the lowest possible emissions were achieved, California’s water-reliant industries such as grape growing and dairy farming are doomed.

Although the state has taken stronger action than other states to reduce emissions, for example with strict requirements for vehicles, with 2% of the world’s greenhouse emissions it ‘cannot save itself,’ Field said.

He added California needed to set an example to the rest of the world.

‘Even if California were to aggressively adopt emissions controls, global climate wouldn't respond to that directly. But if California is proactive, that could inspire the rest of the US to be proactive, which could inspire the rest of the world, and you would see a domino effect.’

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