Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

January 5, 2009
Climate Change in California - Costs and Opportunities

         Not long ago, I was visiting with S.P. Parker - co-owner of the Sierra Mountain Center - about the impact of climate change on his mountaineering business in the eastern Sierra Nevada.

         "We constantly hear that business can't afford to do anything about this," Parker said.  Then he added: "My business is being hurt right now. We can't do the trips. There's no snow and ice. The snow and ice is becoming more and more limited."

         I thought about Parker's observations this week as I read a lengthy new report about the risks of climate change in California. In short, the report by two UC Berkeley researchers says that trying to lessen the blow of climate change will help - not hurt - the state's economy and ecosystems. And the costs of inaction could be catastrophic.

         On page after page, they detail the potential price-tag of delay, which includes more destructive wildfires, less Sierra snowmelt, a shorter ski season, increasing crop damages, heat waves and so on. But some change, they warn, is inevitable, no matter how California responds. "Whether these trends are moderate or extreme will depend on policy," the authors, Fredrich Kahrl and David Roland-Holst, say in the report.

         California is already a climate leader with its historic legislation, known as AB32, aimed at shrinking greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. But the report, which is part of a series of studies into alternative energy and resource strategies at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability - or CERES -  concludes more needs to be done. 

         "A real commitment to this would begin immediately by establishing and extending capacity for technical assessment and policy analysis, followed by timely and sustained policy activism," the report says. "California's historic AB 32 initiative is a positive model for this, but only a beginning. The scope of long-term climate issues is much wider, and could sustain a longer-term agenda for economic stimulus...."

         Making California more climate-friendly could pay substantial dividends. "We find that if California improves energy efficiency by just 1 percent per year, proposed state climate policies will increase the Gross State Product (GSP) by approximately $76 billion, increase real household incomes by up to $48 billion and create as many as 403,000 new jobs," the report says.

         "Again and again ... we have seen policy initiative transform adversity into progress," Kahrl and Roland-Holst conclude in their report. "Just as the Depression inspired the New Deal, World War II induced unprecedented economic mobilization and satellite envy launched the space program and the IT revolution, California can turn the threat of climate change into a growth opportunity with the right policy leadership."

 If you'd like to read the report, it is posted on the following web page:

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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at

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