In response to a climate report that the United Nations is heralding as a “code red for humanity,” local environmental activists say urgent change is needed to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the Central Coast and beyond.
On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body associated with the U.N., released a major new report outlining the current state of the climate and possible futures moving forward.
The report, which was based on the analysis of more than 14,000 studies, declares that it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
According to estimates outlined in the report, scientists believe the world will reach a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades — a threshold that many experts believe is the maximum temperature that humanity could endure before massive economic and social repercussions.
At this point, experts believe the planet will continue to warm well beyond 2040, but say there is a small window of time to mitigate further damage in the latter half of the century.
Experts largely believe some climate damage is irreversible, though the report concluded that dramatically slashing carbon emissions and reducing greenhouse gas emissions could limit warming.
On the Central Coast, both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have seen the impact of climate change taking hold in the last century. According to the Washington Post, Santa Barbara County’s average temperature has risen 2.3 degrees Celsius since 1895, and neighboring Ventura County’s average temperature has risen 2.6 degrees Celsius, making it the fastest-warming county within the 48 contiguous states.
In addition to overall warming, local environmentalists say the impacts of climate change can clearly be seen through the increase in extreme weather events, such as more intense fire seasons, high temperatures, sea level rise, more volatile storms and long standing drought in the region.
Sigrid Wright, the CEO of the Community Environmental Council, told the News-Press Tuesday that the urgency of the report signals what many environmental activists have been saying for years — climate change is happening and it’s happening fast.
“The meta-theme that stands out for me is that the report really kind of tells us or is shouting at us that climate change is happening faster or sooner than anyone predicted,” Ms. Wright said. “By nature, scientists are not hysterical people, so when they get up and speak up this strongly, we really would be wise to listen.”
She said the report warrants a response “that matches that level of urgency” outlined in the report. While Ms. Sigrid said saving the climate will take collective action, there are steps local residents can take to make a positive impact on the planet.
For those who can afford it, Ms. Sigrid said residents should prioritize purchasing electric or hybrid electric vehicles when buying a new car and consider transferring to solar energy in their homes.
In addition to these changes, a new program recently launched by the county known as Central Coast Community Energy will automatically enroll Santa Barbara County residents living in Carpinteria, Goleta and the unincorporated areas of the South Coast to receive clean energy services. Ms. Wright said as long as residents opt-in to the program, they will be making a positive climate impact.
Ms. Wright added that though these changes can make small impacts on the climate, the “most important thing an individual could do” is advocate for strong environmental policy and elect leaders that prioritize the climate.
“Not everything about climate change can be changed by individuals and individual’s actions — we have to collectively change the system,” Ms. Wright said. “Fortunately, we live in California with the fifth largest economy that has shown a lot of solid climate leadership.”
Hillary Hauser, the executive director of Heal the Ocean, said reading the report made her think “we are out of time.” With the report pointing to human action as one of the leading contributors to climate change, Ms. Hauser said it’s society’s responsibility to fix it.
“We caused it, and because we caused it, we have to fix it,” Ms. Hauser told the News-Press Tuesday.
As the world now looks to slow the impacts of climate change, she cautioned against apathy on the part of individuals. She told the News-Press that taking responsibility and “treating our surroundings with respect” is key to preserving the land for the future.
“When you get a report like this or a book that says this stuff, there’s a tendency to sit back because what’s the use,” Ms. Hauser said. “(People think) ‘I can’t do anything about it, so what the heck difference is it going to make for me to buy a different car.’ And the answer is that we have to keep persevering. It’s really not about us anymore — it’s the future generations.”
Both Ms. Wright and Ms. Hauser voiced concerns about sea level rise and the threat it presents to the county’s critical infrastructure, such as Highway 101 and the railroad tracks.
Both environmentalists said officials will likely need to relocate or make changes to the highway and railroad system due to the rise in sea level.
Despite the dreary outlook for the world’s climate future, Ms. Wright said she still has hope for the future of the region.
“Despite all of this, I do have hope, and it’s kind of a measured hope that is based on what I know about people and how, even though this can feel very overwhelming, in the end, we all care about our children and our children’s children,” Ms. Wright said. “When we have the fate of humanity on the line, I feel that we’re going to really lean in and work together to address climate change and reduce these risks.”