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San Diego scientists give mixed reaction to climate summit

Flooding in Imperial Beach,  Jan. 18, 2019 (left); 2007 Witch Creek Fire (right).
Erik Anderson (left); AP (right)
Flooding in Imperial Beach, Jan. 18, 2019 (left); 2007 Witch Creek Fire (right).

Researchers are both hopeful and apprehensive about the climate conference underway in Scotland.

San Diego climate watchers are concerned the talks at the international conference in Scotland are not focused on the action it will take to stave off severe global warming impacts.

World leaders reached agreements Tuesday to protect Earth’s forests, cut methane emissions and help South Africa wean itself off coal. Those developments highlighted a flurry of deals intended to avert catastrophic global warming.

Observers noted that such promises have been made and broken before.

San Diego is already experiencing the impact of rising global temperatures. Drought, wildfires and unusually strong storms are just some of the extreme weather conditions that signal climate change is already here.

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San Diego researcher Veerabhadran Ramanathan at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography San Diego worries how people will cope. Ramanathan urged world leaders, including the pope, to make climate change a priority. But he is losing faith in the global response to the impending crisis.

He decided to skip the climate talks in Scotland but he said the talks need to focus on immediate and drastic actions to keep global warming from getting dramatically worse.

“Even if you ask the most gung-ho person (who says) we are going to bring down the climate change,” Ramanathan said. “It’s going to take us at least 20 years, if not 30 years to bring down the emissions to below ten percent. I don’t think we’re ever going to get down to zero.”

California leaders have set aggressive targets to restrict the sale of gas powered cars, increase use of electric vehicles and a goal of lowering carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

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Ramanathan said that is not enough.

“I am also honestly quite a bit disillusioned with these meetings,” Ramanathan said. “There are a lot of talks. Not substance. We are going to come with some meaningful things but nothing commensurate to the problem we are facing.”

New research from climate researchers at UCLA already blames most of the western wildfire behavior on climate change. The study says the atmosphere is drying out landscapes increasing the chances and ferocity of wildfires.

San Diego’s yearly average temperature has already risen three degrees Fahrenheit to about 65 degrees since the 1970’s. If greenhouse gas emissions are not cut sharply soon, the average temperature could climb as much as six degrees more by the end of the century.

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A change like that would be dramatic.

“That’s a very different climate than what many people in San Diego grew up in,” said Andrew Pershing, the director of climate science at Climate Central. “If we can limit warming to about 1.5 degrees then San Diego is looking at only about another degree of Fahrenheit warming so it’s a very similar world to the one that we have right now.”

San Diego reaction to climate summit is mixed

The climate summit is drawing mixed reactions from a graduate student studying the ocean in San Diego.

“I don’t know if we are going to be able to reach our climate goals,” said Gabriella Berman, a master’s student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

She is in Scotland for the climate summit.

“I am optimistic that local communities on a smaller scale will be able to adapt to the changes that are going to come,” Berman said.