“Wicked Problems”: California’s Climate Change Challenges

The 5th Annual Conference on Climate Change in California wrapped up yesterday, and speakers took on the hard questions that follow on the heels of the scientific acknowledgement that at least some global man-made climate change is now occurring thorughout the world, and that includes California.

Greenhouse gases have “lifetimes of decades if not centuries,” according to Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s Dan Cayan, and there is likely to be ongoing impacts at every level of culture, society and the economy.

The so-called “wicked problems” the state faces–the term taken from Dan Cayan’s label of “problems that are all tangled up in different processes”–are rife.

  • Water allocation, with Sierra snowpack forecast to decrease 30-90 percent from 2020 through 2090, creating a scramble for water among users. UC Berkeley’s Michael Hanemann noted that the state was not measuring current diversions of water or groundwater use.
  • The costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation: How expensive will it be? Who will pay and will there be a way to allocate costs equitably? 
  • Communcation of both the nature and scale of the problem to the American populace, media and policy makers is a challenge since scientific data can be misinterpreted, misunderstood or downright ignored. “We’re not good entertainers,” Dr. Cayan ad-libbed to the amusement of the large audience of mainly scientists.
  • More and more data and information is needed, according to the California Department of Water Resources director Lester Snow, to better forecast and prepare for damage to human settlements and ecosystems through climate change induced flood, drought and wildfires.

So what were some of the best ideas that came forth during the Sacramento event once the caveats cleared?

Economics professor Hanemann suggested that the state come up with climate change adaptation plans similar to existing urban water management plans. Just as the water management plans do for extreme drought, climate change adaptation plans could scope what could be done by state, regional and local government to prepare for worst-case scenarios (drought, flood, heat stroms, wildfires) in land use, transportation and public health.

ICLEI’s Gary Cook outlined how that international member-based organization is leading assessments and actions plans for climate resilient communities in four US locations: Keene, NH; Homer, AK; Miami-Dade County, FL; and Ft. Collins, CO.

Art Rosenfeld, longtime commissioner of conference host the California Energy Commission, spoke on day one about how cool roofs–a very low cost or even no extra cost technology–reduces cooling use by 20 percent in homes and businesses, while reducing overall urban heat islands.

This one step taken in all new construction in the world’s largest 100 cities, which at the CEC’s behest California is mandating for all new and rebuilt homes next year, would save 400 billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is equivalent to more than the greenhouse gas emissions of all nations for an entire year.

And people would pay less on their energy bills, providing a net positive financial impact immediately for all homes that use air conditioning.

In addition to state policies like AB 32, which would reduce overall emissions by 70 percent come 2050 with myriad such policies to reduce building, transportation, government and industry carbon emissions, there is no one silver bullet. 

California is beginning to demonstrate that such wicked problems must be attacked with an almost endless arsenal of research, policy, programatic, product and management innovation. 

 

 

  

Share