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Happy Earth Day

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
April 24, 2000


Global Warming is real. No longer a matter of speculation, a majority of scientists are saying that planetary climate patterns are out of whack, and it's just a matter of time before Americans are forced to deal with these changes in a significant way. The question before is what exactly should North County residents expect from nature's backlash.

The first thing we should expect to see is environmental refugees flocking to Southern California from all points east. As reported by the World Watch Institute, America's Midwestern section is in the beginning stages of an epic drought. Recently photographs from space have shown a dust cloud forming over the heartland, add to that protracted tornado and hurricane seasons and things don't look good for North America.

A drought affecting the Colorado River basin would mean a severe water shortage in San Diego County. Our current population is sustained with imported water, without irrigation the entire region will dry up. The loss of native habitat, and the introduced urban forests of our communities, will mean diminished biotic diversity. As it is, Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson recognizes coastal sage habitat as one of the hottest terrestrial extinction hot spots.

Due to unfavorable climate change, another possibility for increased migration into the area is from Central America. With an increased frequency of hurricanes, many to the scale of 1999's Hurricane Mitch, it is not unreasonable to think that a flood of refugees will flee North to escape the disease and destruction of countries unable to cope with nature's fury.

Something else we should prepare for is a rise in sea level. Climatologists are predicting that the next 20 years will see sea levels rise 4 inches due to the break up of polar ice. If things continue at their current pace, others predict sea levels to rise 20ft by the turn of the next century. Regardless of the amount, researchers agree that sea levels are rising, and coastal erosion is accelerating.

As the atmosphere heats up, so to will ocean temperatures. With increased water temperatures we can expect more intense storms. During La Nina years this may be manageable, it is however, La Nino storms that will wreak havoc on Southern California's coast. Locally, because of human alterations, without sand serving as buffer, we can expect catastrophic bluff failures on a regular basis. On the anthropocentric front, such a turn will devastate the economy, creating a new class of environment refugees.

With a crippled economy, and water a scarcity, the real challenge will be feeding the millions of people who have moved to paradise in search of the California dream. All the freeways, and supermarkets will do little to feed residents when agriculture is disrupted due to climatic upheaval. Officials say the San Diego region can accommodate another million people, obviously quality of life is not included in the equation.

Human impact has degraded every aspect of the Southern California environment. As we encroach on what little open space remains we will make sure their is no possible chance for a rebound. Post-consumer waste is now so abundant, we are forced to ship it to other states or bury on top of aquifers. Our sewage is polluting coastal waters, to untold effect, and overfishing has depleted fish stocks to the point of a systematic collapse of the food chain.

Yet we continue on as if nothing is wrong. Living way beyond our means, Southern Californians are operating without a net. Happy Earth Day.

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