Fighting climate change in California

Edgar McGregor is an amateur climatologist and founder of WhereWeStand.info. He’s also a high school senior in Pasadena, California. This essay is an entry in the Cambridge University/Climate Tracker essay contest.

From a Mediterranean climate to desert climate, and from warm to hot, California has been severely impacted by climate change. Everywhere one travels, evidence of climate change sticks out like a sore thumb. The state is far warmer and drier than it used to be in the pre-industrial era. Fall has surrendered two of its months to summer’s extreme heat, while winter no longer gives us cold. The spring has become warm and dry, and the summers have become unprecedentedly hot. What is worse, tropical storms approach closer to the southern portion of the state each year, while the seas warm up.

Our mountain glaciers are disappearing, as the wells run dry. Our trash is pushed ashore by the waves, as our reservoirs are evaporated by the wind. The people go about their daily lives, as nearly 1 million tons of CO2 gets pumped into the air each day by the state alone.

I sat in a quiet classroom at the end of the school day staring out the window thinking this very thing. It was late October, yet it was a blistering 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside, everyone was plugged into their phones and computers, unaware or uninterested in the fact that this weather was beyond extreme. They paid no attention to the dying ecosystems right outside the window. All they cared about was how close they were to the air conditioner. It was as if nobody even knew the danger was there. It was if nobody even cared. It was then that I saw this problem was much bigger than I had realized.

Weather has captivated my attention for my entire life. It wasn’t until I became a teenager that I started to notice that it was almost never “cooler than average” outside. I looked into the past 100 years my region’s weather and found exactly what I feared.

From 1909-2017, my hometown, Pasadena, California, has warmed 6.5 degrees and lost 15% of annual rain. Summer has carved its way so far into fall that late Octobers, such as in 2017, can blister as hot as July. Meanwhile, nighttime lows fail to even approach the preindustrial average year-round, as December continuously feels like October.

Strawberries sprout in January, while autumn leaves fall in February. 2012-2016 saw the worst drought in a millennium for the region, only to be followed by downpours in early 2017. Later, those rains grew grasses that eventually dried out and helped to grow massive wildfires such as the Thomas Fire, the biggest fire in state history.

It is one disaster after the next, and it will only get worse. According to UCLA Climatologists, the number of extreme heat days annually, those with temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit, may triple over the next 80 years for Pasadena. By 2100, Pasadena may see average yearly temperatures rise a full 9 degrees, or 15.5 degrees warmer than the pre-industrial average. By 2100, new unforeseen disasters could be plaguing the region, crippling or overwhelming our water systems, wreaking havoc on our ecosystems and forcing our agriculture to move elsewhere.

With such extremes across the state, it is very curious to me as to why teenagers my age still don’t notice climate change’s presence.

If they don’t see its effects here, they won’t see it elsewhere. If my generation does not solve this issue in our lifetimes, it will simply be too late. Tomorrow is not the time to work, today is.

Already, my state is dragging my country along with this issue. California has set in place initiatives to combat this issue both short and long-term. Our governor, Jerry Brown has signed legislation to curb carbon emissions completely by 2040. Companies such as GuardTop are taking the initiative to cooling our cities, by, for instance, turning our streets light grey instead of black. Our people are pushing the nation to do what California is doing so that we can one day lead the world in humanity’s greatest issue. We’re making progress in California, but not fast enough. We stand with our hearts in the right place, but our actions are lost in our greed.

It is here where we must prove ourselves to our children that we can live in harmony with nature and with each other. It is here where we must put aside our doubts and come together to solve an issue that puts our future at serious risk. How we operate, trade, consume, and give all must change, and it is a unique opportunity to fix most of society’s mistakes. In addition, if we solve this, we’ll be smarter, more open-minded, more thankful, more loving, more selfless, less greedy, less angry, less stressed and happier. This is the greatest issue we have ever faced, and so, it must be the greatest issue we will ever solve.

It starts with you, the reader. You may think its hard, useless or weird, but you really can make a difference. Anybody who judges you negatively for caring about those who will follow us in future generations should mean nothing to you. As a favorite climatologist of mine wrote: “I came to see how deeply I’d been influenced by the subconscious whisper of culture, how little I questioned my everyday actions, and how completely I accepted the illusion that the ways things are are the only way they could be.” (Peter Kalmus, “Being the Change”).

Society is the only thing that is stopping you from doing your part, not your schedule, time or money. Start small, and you will find your way. This is the better, more sustainable future that we can create, and you are the answer. Only together can solving climate change be possible.

Photo: La Tuna fire, Los Angeles, September 2017 (Wikipedia)