By Elisabeth Robbins
My friends in Iowa are digging cars and mailboxes out from under yet another snowstorm, so I don’t get much sympathy when I report yet another dry day of sunshine and high 60s. But President Obama, recognizing the relationship of California’s agricultural health to the nation’s food prices, brought some welcome attention as well as financial assistance to California’s historic drought this month when he visited Fresno and Firebaugh.
There, he saw first-hand the problems reported nearly daily in our local papers: Reservoirs are drying up. Without irrigation water, an area half the size of Rhode Island lies fallow this spring, resulting in job losses for farm workers. Without grass, ranchers are culling herds that will take years to rebuild.
Here in Woodland, we are cutting back water use by 20 percent, the first of many steps to come unless we get rain soon. Woodland prides itself as a service hub for agriculture. Storage and processing facilities for local farm produce are some of our biggest businesses. And we are home to many farm workers. As the farm economy goes, so goes the economy of Woodland. Long-term drought gives us a lot more to worry about than whether the lawn turns brown
California has had multi-decade droughts before, and we are told we may be entering another one. But this time we have thrown a new wrench in the works that will negatively influence long-term change. Increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may not only be increasing global average temperature, but changing weather patterns worldwide. Is this a foretaste of what will become our new normal — a hot, dry world none of us wants?
Back to that snow in Iowa. Climate scientists looking at weather over the entire globe are starting to see changes that could bring on long-term shifts in climate. For example, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26023166), says data indicate that warming in the Arctic has reduced the temperature difference between the Arctic and our middle latitudes. This in turn leads to a slower, more wavering flow of air from west to east, carrying moisture with it into the Midwest and Northeast. My Iowa friend is scooping our rain off his sidewalk.
Here in the West, we are still within range of normal seasonal variation, but the trend is toward more heat and less moisture, in the direction climate scientists have told us to expect. Unfortunately, their projections are becoming reality even sooner than they thought (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-faster-than-predicted).
The response among the state’s Republican House delegation was HR 3964, a bill that seeks to make points with San Joaquin Valley farmers at the expense of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta environment and state law. Rather than playing divisive games for local political gain, House Republicans from the Golden State have a golden opportunity to take the lead in offering the nation a constructive strategy that actually responds to voters’ concerns about drought and climate instability. They can follow the suggestion of such conservative economists as former Secretary of State George Shultz and Mitt Romney’s economic advisor Greg Mankiw to support a fee on carbon.
A steadily rising tax or fee on the amount of CO2 produced by each ton of coal, oil or natural gas would push energy use away from fossil fuel and toward clean alternative wind and solar. If all revenue is returned to households (not used to support “big government”), it would cover the increased energy costs of most households.
Climate scientists agree the climate is changing, and economists agree a carbon fee is the single most effective thing we can do to limit climate change and the huge costs it will entail, to human health, economic and political stability, and species survival.
Here in largely rural Congressional District 3, both candidates will have the drought on their minds during the upcoming House campaign. Voters certainly will. How our candidates for the House of Representatives say they will deal not only with the current dry spell — but with the hot dusty future forecast — by continued reliance on fossil fuel should influence every voter’s decision in November.
— Elisabeth Robbins is a Woodland resident and member of the Yolo Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby.