The federal government released its Fourth National Climate Assessment on Black Friday.
Though President Trump has stated that he doesn’t believe the report, it has some important things to say about the Eastern Sierra’s recent past and its foreseeable future.
The financial effects of climate change on the Sierra will be dramatic. The report states that, “regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, are vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change.”
However, in the face of this looming scourge, economics seem insignificant.
A far more consequential effect, according to the report, is the, “loss of identity,” that communities must reconcile with as the climate changes.
Many of the vulnerabilites described in the report will affect the Eastern Sierra, but increased wildfire and reduced snowpack are among the most important.
The report states that the, “area burned by wildfire across the western United States from 1984 to 2015 was twice what would have burned had climate change not occurred.”
Fires in the Los Angeles area caused $3.1 billion in damages between 1990-2009.
Forests can slow climate change by absorbing carbon.
The increase in wildfires has made the forests of Southern California net carbon emitters, meaning that they emit more carbon than they store.
The future of western fire activity does not look bright (figuratively speaking). Models predict continued high emissions, “fire frequency [in the southwest] could increase 25%, and the frequency of very large fires (greater than 5,000 hectares) could triple.”
In our neck of the woods it will only be worse, “climate change could triple burned area (in a 30-year period) in the Sierra Nevada by 2100.”
President Donald Trump had this to say about the wildfire portion of the Assessment:
“As to whether or not it’s manmade and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it – Not nearly like it is… The fire in California, where I was, if you looked at the floor, the floor of the fire, they have trees that were fallen, they did no forest management, no forest maintenance.”
Snowfall, in the worst case scenarios, will not last much longer in California. The report says that, “much of the mountain area in California with winters currently dominated by snow would begin to receive more precipitation as rain and then only rain by 2050.”
Though it is possible that within my lifetime snow will cease to fall in California, Mammoth Mountain, at more than 11,000-feet, should represent one of the last holdouts.
As the snow line moves up, the higher elevations will receive the last of the snowfall, and Mammoth and the rest of the Eastern Sierra are the highest parts of the state, making them the last refuge for snow.
Reduced snowpack will in turn reduce runoff that feeds rivers and will exacerbate drought.
On a positive note, California is on the front lines of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.
California’s water conservation plan caused the state to reduce its water usage by 25% between 2014 and 2017. California has also enacted mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and has passed renewable portfolio standards to reduce fossil fuel dependence and greenhouse gas emissions.
The local government is doing its part as well.
On October 24th, 2017, the Climate Change Action Team created by the Town of Mammoth Lakes met for its first meeting.
This Action Team is made up of stakeholders and interested parties from the community, like John Wentworth from Town Council, Tom Hodges from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, and Sandra Pierce from Mono County Health, among many others.
The Team, with the help of consultants, has already drafted a Climate Vulnerabilities Assessment for the region, which has graded the different vulnerabilities that Mammoth Lakes faces due to climate change using a color scale from green to red.
This vulnerabilities assessment will inform an Adaptation Strategies draft, that is slated to be completed in early spring.
The current draft of the Vulnerabilities Assessment is not public. The Action Team does not want the public commenting on it before it has been fully vetted, according to the town’s assistant planner Kim Cooke, who is helping to spearhead the effort.
Once both the Vulnerabilities Assessment and Adaptaion Strategies drafts are completed, they will inform a climate change mitigation amendment to the town’s general plan to be drafted in the spring.
This process was initiated by California SB 279, which requires local governments in California to include planning for climate change in their general plans.
The next meeting of the Climate Change Action Team will be on December 5th from 1:30 to 3:30 in Suite Z.