The North Coast Asks Questions at Senator McGuire’s Climate Crisis Town Hall
McGuire set the stage by welcoming viewers and framing the discussion, saying, “I want to be candid here tonight – the alarm could not be louder. Climate change is here, the evidence is clear and the impacts are dangerous. Experts believe that climate change has made California and the American west warmer and drier over the last twenty to thirty years.”
The town hall panelists included three experts, each specializing in climate change and the infrastructure involved. The Climate Crisis Town Hall featured experts Daniel Swain, Climate Scientist with the Institute of the Environment & Sustainability at UCLA, along with Kristina Dahl, who is a Senior Climate Scientist for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Peter Miller, who is the Director of The Western Region Climate & Clean Energy Program which is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.One element of nature that Humboldt County residents are familiar with is the regular presence of fog – on the rivers, in the trees, over the Humboldt Bay and all other inlets from the Pacific into the various crevices punctuating our rugged coastline. As many longtime residents have noted, the Humboldt fog seems to be disappearing, a foreboding change to the climate relied on by Sequoia Sempervirens from Santa Cruz to northern California through Humboldt County to the Oregon coastline to northern Washington State.
“Peter, we’ve been getting questions from folks who live in San Francisco, who live up in Bayside in Humboldt County, who live in Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, about fog. All of these questions are related to – each of these individuals believe that they’re seeing less fog than they did twenty years ago – all long term residents of San Francisco up in Bayside, as well as in Bodega Bay.”
McGuire continued, “The question is, for example, from Gregory, ‘Will Bay Area fog survive climate change, or is it anticipated that it’s gonna cease?’ …And then we hear from James and Ileana – ‘We’ve noticed after twenty plus years in our home town in Big Lagoon in Humboldt County, that we have less frequent fog, and it’s drier than it once was.’ So, Peter, talk to us about this debate on the North Coast, famous for its fog. What happens to it with climate change?”
Peter Miller replied, “In general, the models are suggesting that we’re going to see a migration northward of climate zones. So, the Bay Area will look more like central California, Northern California, Humboldt, will look more like the Bay Area, and over time we’re going to see a hotter, drier climate on the coast.” He went on to acknowledge that locals who have a long memory of local weather patterns, perhaps spanning several decades may notice this change, but that these accumulate over time and “will be punctuated by some of these extreme events that we are seeing now.”
Miller specifically explained that fog is particularly delicate and important to the coastline. He explained that down the line, “there is growing concern about ocean current patterns – particularly in the Atlantic, but also in other parts of the world. Fog is highly dependent on the current ocean currents that we have in California. If these change, we’re going to see a substantial impact on fog and other conditions in northern California.”
McGuire posed a viewer question about regional climate changes that would affect the Emerald counties, asking Daniel Swain, “What does it look like over the next twenty to thirty years, when it comes to climate change on the way for the western United States?”
Swain replies, “So, the places in the west are pretty likely to get substantially wetter and some of the really dry places in the desert southwest- are more likely to get drier – so unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the pattern a lot of people would like to see. It’s going to amplify the differences between wet and dry regions, and the interesting thing about California is, it sort of spans very different climate zones. Northernmost part of California along the north coast has a climate more similar to the Pacific Northwest.”McGuire told the panel, “We are not joking, we’ve probably received three dozen questions tonight on wildfires, and how climate change is impacting the severity and the size of wildfires.”
Dahl replied, “They are all showing that they’re growing worse and that there’s a connection there to climate change. Here in California, the primary reason for that is that the climate is getting warmer and that is causing the vegetation to dry out. When that vegetation dries out it serves as fuel for the fires there ready to burn – when anytime there’s a spark. So there’s a distinct connection here in the west and in California between the warming climate, the aridity or the dryness of our vegetation, and the increase in wildfire size. So the fires that we’re experiencing this year, last year, the last few years that are larger than ever before. These are, you know, a hallmark case of how climate change is impacting the world around us.” Dahl also brought up the concern of fire and forest management processes as a contributing factor to the intensity of wildfires in California.
Swain added that in regard to fires in California, forest management is being overhauled. He explained, “Recently, you know Mike, my thinking is focused on decoupling wildfire from catastrophe because fire itself in the natural landscape is not a bad thing.” He said the consequences reaped by California’s forests are not only the result of changing weather patterns, but due to inadequate forest management practices. Swain explained, “In addition to climate change, why we’re having such severe wildfires in the forests in the American west and some other parts of the world, is that we totally removed the vast majority of those low intensity natural beneficial fires that would otherwise have come along and kept the forests at a thinner, healthier state.”
After an hour and forty-five minutes of “wonky” science-based discussion, Senator McGuire was the first to bring up the devastating impact that negligent corporate oversight has had on California’s residents.
Late in the meeting, McGuire was not mincing words when he described PG&E as a “convicted felon” in reference to the 2020 Zogg Fire which killed four Californians and burned 200 homes near Redding, and the tragic 2018 Camp Fire, which left 84 Paradise area residents dead and levelled the town. PG&E was found guilty in the Camp Fire case.
McGuire was pointed in describing the problem facing California’s infrastructure management. The Senator characterized Pacific Gas & Electric as a negligent contributor to the state’s energy issues. Addressing the 3,500 live viewers and the three panelists, McGuire said, “t [W]e have a utility here in Northern California that simply has under-invested in their infrastructure, and a convicted felon, if I could just be candid.”Dahl offered, “Yeah, well, there’s an incredible amount of deferred maintenance [with] utility companies throughout the country,” as she referenced the power grid complications and shortcomings in Texas, for example. She emphasized putting more focus on renewable sources of energy, and added, “Absolutely, we need to hold PG&E and other utility companies accountable for maintaining their infrastructure so that we can all be safe.”
When Senator McGuire asked the panel what is the “most important thing” that one person could do to reduce their impact on climate change at an individual level, Miller had a clear answer. “There’s a couple things. Miller explained, “[W]e need to transition our electricity generation from fossil fuels to clean electricity demand and solar. And then we need to take our homes, and our vehicles and we need to make them use electricity rather than fossil fuels, and run them off that clean electricity. That’s the number one thing we need to do.”
Dahl concurred with both Miller and Swain’s number one suggestion – to “electrify everything”. She stated, “Decarbonise, as we say – electrify – that transportation emissions so- that’s going to be something that we need to be incentivizing more and more as a state and as more and more electric cars come onto the market. Hopefully, we’ll start to see prices drop as well so that we don’t need such large subsidies from the state or federal government- to make those affordable…”
Miller emphasized, “California needs to do everything it can. People ask questions about ‘what would you be doing, A or B?’ You know, which one’s more important – the answer is there’s no “or”. It’s all hands on deck. We need to do everything we can to create a model that we can then bring to the rest of the world. A compelling, effective, affordable model for addressing the solution- addressing this crisis that’s upon us today.”