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Can California adapt to global warming?

August 3, 2009 |  5:32 pm

In 2006, California adopted the nation's first comprehensive law to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists have found to be heating the planet. Last year, state officials laid out a detailed plan of how they plan to slash the state's emissions to 1990 levels in the next 11 years. And they began to adopt regulations, such as the nation's first rule to mandate low-carbon fuel.

But California can't control whether Congress will adopt an effective national climate law and it has no control over whether U.S. action could spur China, India and other fast-growing nations to commit to reducing their carbon footprint at the December negotiations in Copenhagen to draft a climate treaty.

So the nation's most populous state has already begun preparing for the worst: heat-waves, a rising sea level, flooding, wildlife die offs and other expected consequences from what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of the world's top scientists, predict will be a dramatic temperature increase by the end of this century.

Its called adaptation.

A new comprehensive plan from California's Natural Resources Agency offers strategies to deal with threats in seven sectors from fire-fighting to public health and water conservation. The public is invited to submit comments to the draft over the next 45 days (email address is  Public hearings will be held in Sacramento on August 13, and in Los Angeles on a later date.

The draft is "a good step in the right direction," said Gina Solomon of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. "It highlights the importance of local adaptation planning, protecting vulnerable communities and the importance of public education."

But she cautioned: "These are all just words on paper without funding to carry them out. The federal government should help states to prepare for climate change. Spending some money now will save billions later, and these strategies save lives."

David Festa of the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund, voiced the hope that the report would "add urgency to our state's desperate water supply situation," noting that the Legislature will consider five new water-related bills when it reconvenes on August 17.

-- Margot Roosevelt