November 24, 2014

Mediterranean Cities Adapt to Climate Change

 

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER, MESSENGER, 2012

Mediterranean Cities Adapt to Climate Change

Topanga Canyon fog bank looking towards the sea is a reminder of the unique place Topanga holds in the world as one of only five Mediterranean climates. L.A. is one of the first cities to get its act together, from the scientists all the way up to the mayor; nobody knew precisely how to adapt to climate change because no one had the data until now.

Topanga, one of only five Mediterranean climates in the world, lies in the middle of one of them —vibrant, beautiful, full of lush tree canopies, flowing creeks and warm hills cooled by rich sea breezes.

The community of Topanga and the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains are biologically rich with large areas of grassland, chaparral, oak woodland, willow riparian, scrub oak woodlands and geologic volcanic rock outcrops.

Yet Mediterranean climates like ours are limited to just a few small areas on the planet: Southern California to northern Baja California; central Chile; the cape region of South Africa, southwestern Australia and the region bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Moderated by cold ocean currents, the Mediterranean climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. While these unique ecosystems cover fewer than three percent of the earth’s land area, they contain about 20 percent of its plant biodiversity, including more than 26,000 endemic species.

But what if Topanga and its surrounding climates reach the tipping point of more hot days that increase the threat of floods and wildfires and decrease the snowpack, our main source of water?

Scientists worldwide have clearly established links between climate change and more frequent and severe weather events such as larger storms, increased flooding, more and increasingly intense wildfires, longer droughts and sustained water shortages.

To discuss effective adaptation policies, “The Mediterranean City: A Conference on Climate Change Adaptation,” brought together an impressive network of more than 200 experts from academic, policy, business, public health and government sectors to the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, from June 25-27, to offer more resources and knowledge to build long-term solutions.

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our time,” said Nancy Steele, Executive Director of the Council for Watershed Health, who sponsored the conference. “Earth has seen this before, we have not; how we adapt determines us as a species.”

Participating and sponsoring organizations included CDM Smith, Edison International, Tree People, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Nature Conservancy, UCLA, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Southern California Association of Governments to create a partnership moving toward effective regional adaptation strategies.

Steele said that those strategies, especially in the Mediterranean cities that house 80 percent of the world’s population, will affect everything including water, energy, biodiversity, open space, public health, governance and built environments.

“Cities are engines of production and innovation,” Steele said, “They create problems but also create solutions for climate impact; we need to come up with adaptive solutions to prevent the coming crisis; adaptation cannot be imported, it must be created from within using climate-based solutions to build a community that will create and maintain a healthy environment.”

The general debate at the conference did not concern whether or not there is climate change, or how to mitigate it, but how to adapt to the consequences and effects we are already experiencing.

Throughout the conference, its website portal kept track of all of the presentations and panel results. Check out the conference in its entirety at http://portal.medcityconference.org.

UCLA Study

Coming out just before the conference was a landmark UCLA study presenting the most chilling and up-to-date numbers for the climate projected for the middle of the century.

“This is the best, most sophisticated climate science ever done for a city,” said Professor Paul Bunje, executive director of the UCLA Center for Climate Change Solutions, Managing Director, Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC) and a presenter at the conference. “L.A. is one of the first cities to get its act together, from the scientists all the way up to the mayor; nobody knew precisely how to adapt to climate change because no one had the data — until now. These are shocking numbers and we will have to adapt.”

With the help of a UCLA supercomputer, Bunje said the study is 2,500 times more precise than previous climate models for the region. The computer made roughly one-quintillion calculations over a period of six months to assess every aspect of 25 global warming models that might be applicable to Southern California.

Released on June 21, the study is the first to model the Southland’s complex geography of meandering coastlines, mountain ranges and dense urban centers in high enough resolution to predict temperatures down to the level of microclimate zones, each measuring 2 1/4 square miles.

According to the study, by the middle of the century, the number of days with temperatures above 95 degrees each year will triple in downtown Los Angeles, quadruple in portions of the San Fernando Valley and even jump five-fold in a portion of the High Desert in L.A. County.

“Not only will the number of hot days increase, but the study found that the hottest of those days will break records,” said Alex Hall, lead researcher on the study by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“I think for many people, climate change still feels like a nebulous, abstract, potential future change, and this makes it more real,” Hall wrote of the report. “It’s eye-opening to see how much it will warm where you live. This data lays a foundation for really confronting this issue, and I’m very optimistic that we can confront and adapt to a changing climate.”

The projections are for 2041 to 2060. See the complete results of the UCLA climate change study at http://c-change.la/temperature/

“We are already a decade into progressive change,” Bunje said. “What we are dealing with are continuous???, this is a challenge of biblical proportions.”

The report was produced by UCLA with funding and support from the city of Los Angeles, in partnership with the (LARC).

MILLION TREES LOS ANGELES

Another one of the most innovative programs in the city is One Million Trees L.A.

According to the organization’s research, if everyone planted a tree, in time, one million trees in the city could save $10 million in annual Los Angeles energy costs, remove 2.24 million pounds of air pollutants every year and save $3 million in air pollution cleanup. One million trees would also capture 1.9 million gallons of storm water every year, decreasing runoff and erosion. Learn more at www.milliontreesla.org.

TOPANGA ADAPTATION STRATEGIES

“Climatic events are more severe than properties were designed to withstand,” said Lindene Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer, Zurich Insurance Group, Ltd., referring to the increase in damage due to the increase of hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and massive storms that we can expect to experience during the coming decades.

As Mediterranean climates become more sensitive to global warming, we who enjoy its unique climate, must become caretakers of the plants, animals and people living within.

So what can Topangans do to adapt to climate change?

1. Perhaps most important is to take energy usage seriously and make your house as green as possible.

2. Use outdoor water wisely and collect rainwater for your garden. Install native plants and grow a garden instead of a lawn.

3. Insulate your house and consider solar options. Take the flood and wildfire threat seriously and have a disaster plan in place.

“We have much to do in this state, and for countries that don’t have a heightened sense of arousal about this, it will be hell on earth,” said Michael R. Peevey, President of the California Public Utilities Commission. “I live in Southern California and enjoy the Mediterranean climate. We have tremendou