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San Diego’s Climate Crisis
KPBS Roundtable / September 20, 2019
The impact of climate change on local businesses and homes, our oceans, and the California National Guard.
Speaker 1: 00:01 Climate change is having a major effect on our oceans and it's likely to get worse. California is National Guard, is widely deployed to battle wildfires and a changing climate has millions on the move across the globe. I'm mark Sauer. The KPBS roundtable starts now
Speaker 2: 00:24 [inaudible]
Speaker 1: 00:28 all this week KPBS joined hundreds of news organizations from across the globe to confront the realities of climate change. I'm Mark Sauer KPBS reporters join me on the round table today to share what they've discovered. Joining me is Eric Anderson pre or either Steve Walsh and Matt Hoffman.
Speaker 1: 00:48 As humans continue to pump massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The worst effects have been masked by the oceans, which cover two thirds of the planet. The oceans have absorbed about 30% of the carbon dioxide admitted over the past century, but there is a limit of course to what the great sees can take in. Already. We are seeing the effects of oceans of the oceans absorbing more than 2 million tons of carbon a year. I should say that's 2 trillion tons vast difference there. Now, Eric, your story this week, localize this on a local oyster hatchery. Explain a that local scale. How that's example of this.
Speaker 3: 01:23 Sure. We looked at a business that relies on the ocean for its livelihood. It's a hatchery in Carlsbad. They grow oysters and Mussels. They're inside the, that lagoon Agua Hedionda Lagoon, and this is an issue that has been kind of in the forefront for them since 2007 the reason is back in oh seven, uh, they used to get all of their oyster seed basically, uh, the small tiny oysters that they grow to full size from a place in the Pacific northwest. While the ocean change in the Pacific northwest, it became more acidic and what they were finding was that this oyster seed source was failing. They, they couldn't produce it because they weren't reacting well to the acidic ocean and that was kind of a wake up call. There was a shortage of oysters at that time. People have since adjusted. They've moved the hatchery to a different location off the coast of Hawaii. The Carlsbad facility actually seeds their own oysters. That's one thing that they've done as a result of that. But it was a wake up call for an ensuite industry that relied on the ocean and recognition that things are changing in the ocean.
Speaker 1: 02:24 And uh, we should note in the research we, uh, we learned of the 7.7 billion people on this planet, 3 billion have a protein. Uh, their core protein that is, is from a seafood. So I think that speaks for itself. That statistic scientists had Scripps Institution, Ocean, Aga three, UC San Diego, they stay this extensively. How concerned are they about how rapidly are the warming and the uh, certification is happening?
Speaker 3: 02:46 Well, yeah, there are a couple of things happening. Acidification is one and we can see how that directly impacts businesses that rely on the ocean. Warming is another one. And what warming is doing is it's changing the underwater ecology. A fish that used to survive off the coast of San Diego maybe are moving a little bit further to the north and fish that used to be south of here. Moving a little bit further this way. Um, as the ocean warms, it also has less oxygen in it. Less oxygen means it can support less life. Um, and so there'll become, uh, less prolific, uh, than they were in the past. Um, and I think that researchers I've talked to are concerned about the fact that the, the ocean, which covers, you know, a large chunk of our planet's surface have acted as sort of this regulator, this, this tool that allows the planet to kind of compensate when things get warmer, the ocean can draw some of that heat in. When things get cooler, the ocean can release some of that heat to keep the changes from, for our, around the planet's climate from, from changing too much. But as the ocean fills up with carbon dioxide and heat, it's loses its ability to do that. So the changes that we see moving forward could be much more dramatic.
Speaker 4: 03:53 Oh, we got some more than 70 miles of coastline in San Diego County. We are especially vulnerable to rising seas. And Matt, tell us what's happening in Perio beach. He did some interviews there this week. Yeah, we actually, we headed out with the captain of the lifeguards and Imperial Beach, uh, imperial beach. Um, I'm sure most people know it's one of the lowest lying cities in off California. Uh, they're surrounded by water on three sides, so they really don't have anywhere to go. Yeah. I think your story says what 40 feet is the highest point in the whole city. Yeah. They have, the lifeguard says 40 feet is the highest point in the entire city, which isn't very high. And the captain of the lifeguards isn't just in charge of all the lifeguards in the city, but he's also in charge of all the crews that not only have to clean up after these big floods due to these hiking tides, but we also have to prepare.
Speaker 4: 04:31 So he kinda took us around and he showed us some of the places. Uh, he's lived there his whole life has been a lifeguard for 37 years. Uh, he's no climate expert, but he said that he's seen that these events get worse and worse over time. And that can be due to a variety of reasons. Uh, we able to talk to some experts from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who say that, uh, right now sea level rise, um, has gone up about a foot over the last century, but in the coming next hundred years or in this century, that could be multiple feet. We don't really know. Uh, and if that, if that happens, imperial beach could be in a lot of danger. Uh, right now they use a bunch of different barriers, sand seawalls. Uh, but there's also a big sand problem that we have. There's a worldwide shortage of sand and imperial beach in the past. They've dumped sand on their beaches, but it just gets washed away. So if you have these rising oceans that's just going to make this flooding even worse, uh, with less, with less sand.
Speaker 3: 05:21 And that's not the only place along our long, uh, miles away
Speaker 4: 05:24 beaches and coat and coastline that, uh, is going to see rising seas and, and the diminishment courts. We've seen sin, uh, uh, programs many times costing many millions of dollars to try and replenish the sand along the beaches. Yeah, pretty much anywhere that's low lying on the coast. So we're talking spots in Carlsbad, mission beach, San Diego Bay. Um, Delmar's even ha is, is even tackling problems with sea level rise. Um, but yeah, it's, it's, it's definitely a problem. Um, the interesting part when you talk about cities like del Mar, you hear a lot about things like managed retreat. That's the city looking to tackle the problem of moving these homes back further away so that they can deal with this sea level rise and imperial beach or the lifeguard captain says that's a very touchy subject. Um, and I know me and Eric were talking about before the show, Eric Eric's covered this extensively and it seems like Imperial Beach, um, although there might be some chatter about it, they haven't really taken it on from a city perspective. So I'm interested to see if the state or somebody tries to say, hey, you guys [inaudible]
Speaker 3: 06:18 sure. And I think one of the things that they've talked about there is the idea that, you know, the first concern among imperial beach officials is the public infrastructure. It's the storm water drains that currently drain out into the ocean. If the ocean level rises too high, they're not going to be able to drain into the ocean. It's going to back up into the city. And that's something that it's already happened during high tides. And they're also worried about public property. A, there's a school in the northern edge of, of imperial beach that is already feeling the effects during these higher tides and storm events. You know, their play field is already getting flooded. So that's something that they're already considering. And you know, at some point they may have to move that school, uh, in order to keep providing that, that service to their population.
Speaker 3: 07:01 I want to do, I emphasize to the backdrop of our discussion today, Swedish climate activists, uh, Gretta Thornburgh is leading students like her and many others in cities around the world, including San Diego in a walkout protest and climate change. And this is an advance of the UN's climate summit Monday, September 23rd. It's going to be interesting to see if the u s even participates in that since president Trump and his new UN ambassador are playing have desires. Jesus for all a lot of people to come in, uh, specifically for that. So, uh, they may not be participating actively as a federal government, uh, but they're also not becoming an obstacle to having their letting discuss them in the United States.
Speaker 4: 07:39 Say a another note on imperial beach. When you talk about this happening, other cities like San Diego, San Diego is a huge city and pebble beach is very small. Their economy, you could say really kind of depends on that main strip, which is literally right by the beach. And if that main strip is flooded, then they're out.
Speaker 3: 07:55 Yeah. So the impact there is enormous and then it's what they do. What do you do? Do you dump millions of dollars in building seawalls all around the city or what do you do? Right. Huge question. All right, let's switch now from effects to cause Trump administration this week announced it's blocking California from enforcing strict emission standards for cars and light trucks. And let's dive into that story. A Eric. Um, what happened exactly and what does it mean here? Well, not a surprise what happened this week. This is something that the Trump administration telegraphed as soon as he got into office. He wanted to ease the fuel efficiency standards that the Obama administration passed in the last year of their administration. Um, he issued three tweets in the middle of this week that said, we are revoking California's right, uh, to its waiver of the Clean Air Act. And what that waiver did was it allowed California to institute stricter air pollution standards on its vehicles because California had this huge problem with smog.
Speaker 3: 08:49 Um, and the state wanted to do something aggressive to tackle that smog problem. And it just so that the same gases that cause smog or the same gas that cause global warming. And so that's kind of morphed into, uh, where California is heading. The Trump administration wants to roll back the limits they want to take away. Uh, California's, uh, right to, to set those higher standards. Uh, and, and they want to take away the ability of other states to follow the standards if they choose. Yeah. And California has a huge impact because 13 other states were going to join them, and that's more than half of the car sold in America. So this is a huge impact on this. We have a, we have a clip here from governor Gavin Newsome here, and let's hear what he has to say about this move.
Speaker 5: 09:38 This is the game changer. Uh, and the Trump administration is hell bent on rolling back all those Obama era rules. So part of it's ego, and also, let's just be honest. And one has to be honest here. It's also about doing the bidding of big oil,
Speaker 3: 09:54 Matt. Well, so the Trump administration saying, no, we're the ones who set these standards. Not You, California. But a number of automakers have already said, yeah, that's fine. We'll, we will voluntarily meet these standards. So where's the rub for the federal government here? Um, that's a good question. It's a fair question. It's one that's being asked publicly by Governor Gavin Newsome, uh, an attorney general, but Sarah as well. Um, the thing to understand about this particular change, it's unique in one very special way, right? When you pass a pollution law in this country, usually what you do is you set the bar and you say, look, uh, we don't want you to pollute any more than this and you have to get at least to this attainment level, right? But if you pollute less, that's okay. We're going to allow you to do that. And in this case, what the Trump administration is saying, uh, look, we're going to set this level and we're not going to allow you to pollute less, or you're going to require you to be at this level, uh, for the emissions from your car.
Speaker 3: 10:49 Trump big Skol, and he digs pollution. All right? Before we leave this segment, I should know just before we came on the air, California joint 23 other states and suing the Trump administration over this action. All right, we are going to move on in terms of lives lost and structures destroyed. Of the 10 worst wildfires in California history seven have occurred in the past two years. So it should be no surprise the California National Guard has steadily increased its budget to fight fires. And Steve, ah, how much now is the a guard, uh, spending the current fiscal year a lot over just a few years ago.
Speaker 6: 11:19 Right. So we asked the California National Guard, how much are they being reimbursed over the last decade to fight wildfires and no surprise. Yeah, it's going way up. A 2013, they spend about five point $6 million. Most of that was on aviation. Um, by this year it's $34 million. And a lot of the increase comes from there just simply putting more boots on the ground. They're using five national guard to fight the wildfires. And then starting this year there, they're part of a, a New Year round task force is being paid for through the governor's office, uh, go around and build firebreaks around the state.
Speaker 1: 11:55 Yeah, that's another, that's a different kind of role. And I don't know if that's controversial, not how's the guard feel about that role and what are they doing exactly? What's their mission?
Speaker 6: 12:03 Well, the idea is somewhat controversial. The, a lot of critics will say that you can't build firebreaks around California. There was the deadly campfire last year and that a fast moving wildfire like that wouldn't be stopped by firebreaks. But on the California National Guard side, um, they're up for it. They had a lot of volunteers. They were willing to do that. They're willing to perform this role year round if that's what the governor wants them to do. Uh, it does cause a lot of dislocation. We talked to, uh, major, uh, rubber dill Livingston who lives down here in San Diego. Um, but right after he came back from Baghdad in 2018 he had to go live up in Sacramento here so we could run this statewide task force. And so far, obviously we've lost people from cal fire and wildfires. We've never lost someone from the California National Guard. So that could change if we have a serious incident.
Speaker 1: 12:55 And this a, it does not save it. It seems like the guard is in the military general who we're talking about in a minute are kind of walking a tight road here, tight rope, because as we say, the Trump administration has basically a posture of denial on climate change. The, if they're going to spend money in try to complete this mission,
Speaker 6: 13:10 well it's still some part of the money that's being reimbursed, the state money. And of course the state government completely acknowledged as climate change. Cal Fire put out a 29 page report that basically called for this task force to go around and build these firebreaks. That's all state money. Uh, when you talk about the federal money, this is all FEMA disaster relief money, the same money that goes into flooding, tornadoes and things like that. So so far that money hasn't been controversial man. Where does this directive come from to kind of up to like up their game here on this forest management? I mean, and other presidents at the California has poor, poor forest management when something that comes from, yeah, it's something that comes directly from Gavin new summer or just something that the president wants them to do. Um, well we did hear after the campfire, he was up in paradise and he said that California needs to do more to manage its forest. Uh, of course a lot of that management needs to be done on federal lands, not state lands. Um, the governor took all removed, all of the California National Guard troops are almost all of them from the border, and he took 100 to be part of this task force. He wanted the federal government to pay for then, you know, following up on what a president Trump had said. And so far, no, the state has picked up the cost of this.
Speaker 1: 14:19 All right. I wanted to shift to the other huge challenges a, the climate crisis poses for the military at, at, at large in this country. And one is of course, sea level rise and damage to basis from national, uh, natural disasters like Hurricane Michael. And that devastated the Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida panhandle just a year ago. How is the military coping and planning? I mean, it's such a huge global problem as we're saying.
Speaker 6: 14:41 So climate change prevent, uh, presents somewhat of a, uh, an interesting conundrum for the military. It sort of goes against two values. One of them is to stay out of anything political. The other one is to plan for absolutely any contingency. The, the military has more than a trillion dollars of real estate around the world. They know very well that climate change is impacting that real estate. Um, when, uh, General Mattis was secretary of defense in 2017, he told the Senate that, uh, that climate change was impacting operations, not just real estate, but operations globally, uh, around the world. On the other hand, uh, you've seen, uh, the navy quietly shut down its task force to deal with global warming. Uh, that happened back in March. Um, when you see a lot of the, there's still this a lot of planning, you'd see a lot of things that instead of saying climate change, you, you hear about sea level rise, a lot of the impact is being seen on the east coast right now. We, we see rising sea levels, but it's not the rising sea levels that are the problems so much as storm surge. So when you get a hurricane, whether you believe that hurricane was caused by, you know, climate change or not, you see a storm surge that goes much farther inland. And that isn't because billions of dollars worth of damage at Camp Lagoon. And, uh, there's been a continual flooding up in Norfolk, one of the largest military bases in the [inaudible]
Speaker 3: 15:58 and down an imperial beach day. Uh, the Navy just rebuilt their, uh, navy seal training center. And if you look at that facility, it's, it's the highest, uh, land that you can, when they rebuilt it, they built it up to make sure that it can withstand the rigors of, of sea level rise that could happen there. And it's the highest land, uh, that you can see anywhere.
Speaker 6: 16:17 And there was concern. I mean obviously buds happens all along the strand there in a, in a storm surge, you could see that strand completely covered. Um, so there's obviously an impact there. On the flip side, there was a report that came out from the General Accounting Office earlier this year that, uh, praised a naval base San Diego. They had a very large pure project, a rebuild back last year. They did take into account climate change over the next 75 years when they built it higher than than it, uh, than it would have been. Uh, under the previous plans up at Camp Pendleton, there was a landing strip up there, uh, along I think near Red Beach. Um, that was also, they took into climate change. So you can tell whether or not they get out in front whether or not they use the term climate change. You can see the [inaudible]
Speaker 3: 17:02 Terry working and the conflicts that we're going to talk about this in a minute in terms of global migration and all. But when people are desperate because of drought and lack of basic things like food and water, they're going to move and they're going to find that. I mean, it's just a natural thing and it's going to happen. Literally,
Speaker 6: 17:18 conflicts could be caused by climate change. Here people are, you know, it's, they say Syria. Uh, um, a large element of that was caused simply by, by famine and dislocation. And the military acknowledges that as well as humanitarian efforts to for hurricanes and floods around the world. Um, and
Speaker 3: 17:37 there are attempts to budget for that. Yeah. Syria, you were talking about up to a million refugees from that civil war, but it was proceeded and still continues by four years of drought in a highly agrarian country. So that's something military has to deal
Speaker 1: 17:50 with because people on the moon thing, knowledge of that. Exactly. All right. We're gonna move on and getting a little deeper into this entire topic on migration. Humans have always been on the move to nearby places to new worlds. Motivation varies from Crusaders and conquerors to those fleeing repression or searching for new lands or a better life. Now, disasters associated with climate change are key factors causing mass migrations across the globe. How many migrants from climate are there determining the numbers? And even the importance of climate change as a factor in migration is tricky business. But of the hundreds of thousands fleeing Central American arriving at our southern border in the past year, a significant number left because climate change had ruined the, their agrarian livelihood. So Priya explain how changing climate and many parts of the world as clot causing these huge number of people to move.
Speaker 7: 18:38 Yeah. So actually the World Bank projects that by 2050, we're going to see 140 million people moving because of climate change. And there's three specific regions of the world where we're seeing this happen. The most, um, one is Latin America, which you just mentioned and we're projecting, or the World Bank is projecting that about 17 million people could potentially be migrating in the next 30 years because of climate change there. The highest number is in Subsaharan Africa. There is 86 million people moving, um, there. And then in South Asia, 40 million people. Um, so, you know, Steve, we just talked about Syria, but I actually got a chance to also interview a Somali refugee. Right? Um, and you know, as you mentioned the past two years, they've had a significant shortage of rainfall, which has really, um, dramatically, uh, affected the lives of people who are living in rural areas, um, and who depend on agriculture for their livelihood. So you're seeing those people then migrate to urban areas and um, a lot of these areas are already dealing with political conflict. So then they end up in refugee camps [inaudible] perhaps in other countries like Ethiopia and Kenya and many of them end up here in southern California. So it's really fascinating to watch this process from rural areas to then urban areas to then refugee camps to then potentially, you know, a, a place like San Diego.
Speaker 1: 19:59 And of course we've talked a lot on the show. I'm here, have a huge national debate and a debate as we move into the election season, of course on immigration policies, not only Donald Trump's wall at the southern border, but also asylum seekers, changing immigration, taking in a, you know, of folks in visas, the entire gamut of immigration. But the numbers you're talking about, the numbers in that World Bank study that we're talking about here, uh, this is a global problem. It doesn't seem a wall or some, some tweaking of the immigration policies are going to begin to cover the number of people on the move.
Speaker 7: 20:32 And that's one of the things that the World Bank and the United Nations has been strongly advocating for. They say that we need to be proactive and that if we come up with a programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we could cut those numbers, that 140 million projection by potentially 80%. Um, so, you know, even though at the lowest levels, a lot of these people might not be necessarily realizing that they're moving because of climate change. Um, a lot of people are saying that it's up to the policymakers and the politicians to really push that agenda and think of solutions so that we don't end up in that kind of crisis, uh, decades from now.
Speaker 3: 21:10 Eric, you touched on that just a bit and I'm kind of curious about that. Uh, the, the Somali people who end up here in San Diego, do they see themselves as being climate refugees or do they see themselves as being political refugees?
Speaker 7: 21:25 Well, I think it's a combination and they don't necessarily use that classification of I'm a climate refugee, but if you sit down and talk to them and hear their story, you'll see that it's unknown. It's a combination of all of these things. Then usually the climate issues are what's exacerbating and already tense situation. So it's, you know, the climate change that's leading to famine that's then causing these people to literally say we need to find food and water for our families to survive. And what was particularly fascinating about that one Somali refugee that I interviewed was he had actually joined the Somali army and that's how he, uh, at first initially came to the United States was through, uh, the defense language institute. He ended up at the Lackland air force base in San Antonio, Texas. Um, but he was saying that a lot of people join the army or other armed factions because just as a means to survival and then that's, you know, feeding into all of this violence intention that then the military has to deal with. So all of these issues really do go hand in hand.
Speaker 3: 22:24 Interconnected. Matt? Yeah, Eric took the words right out of my mouth that question, but I know we talked about climate change and I were kind of painting a grim, uh, uh, outlook here on what's happening. I want to talk to like, um, people at the institution of oceanography, Scripps, they say they don't really know how much sea levels going to rise, but if we continue on a path, it's obviously going to rise. But Eric, I know we were talking before, I mean, this can sort of be reversed or halted, right? I mean, well, the thing is is that the outcome is not certain. Whenever you talk to people, I asked this question a lot. We're concerned about sea level rise. How much is it going to rise in by when it's at? The first question I ask, and nobody can really give you that answer. And it's because we still have a chance as as residents of the United States residents of the planet to impact the outcome. So what they're saying is, look, if we dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that we put into the atmosphere today and that is sustained over the next decade, it will dramatic, really dramatically reduce the impact of climate change on our local, uh, almost seems like common sense, right?
Speaker 7: 23:25 Yeah. And one, one fascinating thing that the expert I spoke to also from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography side was that this becomes a moral question and the United States needs to take the lead. According to him, 50% of the pollution in the world is created by the wealthiest 1 billion people, only 4%
Speaker 3: 23:41 of the world's population. But we have a 25% and have just behind China in terms of the most
Speaker 1: 23:46 polluted.
Speaker 7: 23:46 And he was saying that, you know, there are 3 billion people, I'm all over the world who haven't even really discovered fossil fuels and that this isn't something that they're creating, but these are the people who are being impacted. So yeah, so he said, you know, it's really up to us and other, you know, develop nations that are creating this, uh, problem to really solve it.
Speaker 1: 24:06 Well, here's an interesting thing. You know, we had the g seven summit here of course, and president Trump notably didn't show up on climate change a day. We've got this thing I mentioned earlier, next, uh, next week on Monday with the UN u s gonna be represented there.
Speaker 3: 24:18 Well, it's a, it's a weird question of like, who's responsibility is that? I mean, I know it seems like the Trump administration doesn't want to take the leap here to talk about them pulling out of the Paris climate accord. It's like, I think we take lots of researchers, acknowledge the fact that the federal government is not taking the lead on this. But I think they also see, uh, some encouragement in the fact that a states like California and there are other states around the United States that do take this seriously and they're doing things on climate change and they're trying to have a positive impact on the situation. So I think they take heart in that. And, and that's one of the reasons why the predicting exactly what's going to happen and when it's going to happen is so difficult for them.
Speaker 1: 24:54 We're almost out of time. But it's so encouraging that you folks did these stories that we joined these news organizations everywhere doing this as climate march today. And the debate, the national debate is changed so remarkably just in a couple of years here.
Speaker 3: 25:05 Oh, sure. And, uh, I think you'll see it. Uh, you'll see it all through the course of this next year as the presidential elections whined, uh, toward election day.
Speaker 1: 25:15 Right. We are about out of time, but we had that remarkable town hall, just we're 10 top about Democrats vying for the presidential nomination. All talked extensively at length about their plans. Well, we are at a time, but it was a terrific discussion. Appreciate all your reporting and that does wrap up our special climate change edition of the KPBS round table. And I like to thank my guests, all reporters from KPBS news, Eric Anderson Prius. Sure. Either Steve Walsh and Matt Hoffman. And a reminder, all the stories we discussed today are available on our website, kpbs.org plenty of links to a lot of these stories in a lot of these studies that we've read. Rob, excuse me, referenced here. I'm mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and join us again next week on the round table.