Berkeley Lab scientist contributes to White House report addressing climate change concerns

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A hotter, drier future is in store for California. After projections in the National Climate Assessment Report, which was released by the White House on Tuesday, California’s coastal territories are to face weather extremes and more intensified droughts.

The report, which culminates the collaborative effort of more than 300 experts — including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory senior scientist Michael Wehner — is the third of a series of reports congressionally mandated to be released every four years. The report primarily addresses climate change’s impact with the intent of informing decisions made by policymakers as well as the American public.

“It’s not a political report; it’s an assessment of the science,” Wehner said. “Not everything I wrote will please the political parties or the deniers.”

The report presents the scenarios that would result from actions such as doing nothing, planning for adaptation — for example, deciding where infrastructure can be built to avoid damage from extreme heat and rising sea levels — or planning for mitigation, which include cutting carbon emissions.

As for Berkeley’s climate situation, the city’s coastal location means that the climate predominantly depends on the state of the ocean. Although warm temperatures would be less severe on the coast, these Californian regions still grapple with problems of water shortages, diminished water quality and intensified droughts.

With California’s recent record-hitting dry spells, the problem of water shortage has already impacted agriculture by forcing farmers to adapt with changes in crop rotation, pest and water management and farming locations.

“The planet is going to be fine,” said Kristie Boering, a campus professor of chemistry and earth and planetary science. “It’s human civilization that we have to worry about. How many people are going to survive (when we can’t grow food) is going to be a problem.”

In theory, damages from climate change are still reversible, as carbon emissions have a lifetime of 100 years, according to Anthony Wexler, director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis. But more realistically, this reversal is unlikely, as “we are a fossil fuel-based economy” and major steps that address climate change will have to involve legislation.

For example, Stanford University announced Tuesday its decision to divest $18.7 billion in coal stock in favor of investing in technology to combat global warming, a change that began from a student-led movement. Wexler said he hopes to see similar success from the efforts of the UC student body.

“Berkeley students should read (the report) and make up their own minds in what kind of future they want to live in,” Wehner said. “Change starts with one, I suppose, but these actions have to be taken by the larger society.”

Lydia Tuan covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.