Global warming is under way, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels for energy. Some effects on public health and the environment are now unavoidable. However, the most devastating consequences can be avoided if we act swiftly and decisively to reduce global warming emissions. In California, we have myriad of cost-effective approaches to greatly reduce emissions from our cars and power plants, as well as in our homes and businesses. Curbing our heat-trapping emissions through increased efficiency and deploying cleaner technologies can bring economic benefits to our state, while failing to do so will pose serious risks to our financial growth.
If global warming emissions continue unabated, California is expected to face poorer air quality, a sharp rise in extreme heat, a less reliable water supply, more dangerous wildfires, and expanding risks to agriculture.
The severity of global warming's impact will depend on the level of our emissions, as the following chart shows.
If the industrialized nations follow California's lead and reduce their global warming emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and if the industrializing nations following the lower emissions path shown here, we would be on track to keep the increase in temperature within the lower warming range, thus avoiding the most severe consequences. Conversely, if we continue to grow without taking steps to cut emissions, we are likely to see a dramatic increase in temperature, which could bring severe consequences for California and many parts of the world.
As the sixth largest economy in the world, California is in an important position to effect change by reducing its own emissions. And as a known leader in addressing public health and environmental issues, California can spur similar action in other states and countries.
The ideas and many of the technologies needed to bring emissions down are already available. All we need is the will to use them. Being first in the world to do so could bring economic benefits to our state, while failing to do so will almost assuredly cause great hardship.
The most expensive thing we could do ... is nothing.
*Ozone data: modeling conducted for Los Angeles (Riverside) and the San Joaquin Valley (Visalia).
**Emissions scenarios defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Chart Data Source: Cayan, D., A. Luers, M. Hanemann, G. Franco, and B. Croes. 2006. Climate Change Scenarios for California: an Overview. Sacramento, CA: California Climate Change Center.