Is Human-Caused Climate Change Guilty for California's Drought?

Is Human-Caused Climate Change Guilty for California's Drought?

A study published on Monday thoroughly connects human-caused climate change to the worsening and frequency of droughts worldwide, and in particular California's years-long dry spell.

California's current drought is a disaster; having begun in 2012, it is a record-breaker in terms of severity. Droughts around the world have become increasingly devastating, and scientists now say - and have been saying, for several decades - that human emissions are responsible.

One of the most recent voices in the scientific, political, and even papal choir is A. Park Williams at Columbia University. He and his team have just published a study that takes one of the most in-depth looks at droughts ever, with particular focus on California's.

"This would be a drought no matter what," says Williams. "It would be a fairly bad drought no matter what."

"But it's definitely made worse by global warming."

This seems like common sense, of course, but it doesn't hurt to have the data and the research to back it up. Rising temperatures cause moisture to evaporate from soil and reservoirs faster; warm air can contain more water vapor. The result is that no matter how much rain or snow an area gets, the atmosphere will pull it away quickly.

California already wasn't getting enough precipitation, so how can we tell how exactly much worse it is due to changing climate? According to his models, Dr. Williams says that the two degrees Fahrenheit difference between California today and the end of the 19th century leads to the evaporation of as much as 8.5 trillion gallons of water. A concurrent paper, from the University of California, Davis, suggests this year alone is going to cost the state about 2.7 billion dollars, and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands. Williams' group says human emissions are responsible for up to 27% of that.

Two degrees Fahrenheit may seem paltry, but it is clearly having a dramatic effect. "Just from the temperature change, we're in a new climate," says Dr. Williams.

My current favorite settings may be post-apocalyptic wastelands, but that doesn't mean I want to live in one. If anyone has any information to add, just say so in the comments - and keep it civil!

Source: NY Times, AGU Publications, University of California, Davis

Permalink

While I completely agree climate change is fucking over California, part of the blame lies with building so many farms in the middle of a desert. That did the water no favors.

As a Californian, I don't care about blame, just use some fancy science to make it rain already!

Silentpony:
While I completely agree climate change is fucking over California, part of the blame lies with building so many farms in the middle of a desert. That did the water no favors.

Farms? I thought it was the laughable notion of everyone wanting green lawns in the middle of a desert.

Wait, don't large portions of California burst into flames every summer? Seems a drought is the least of their worries...though I'd imagine it's certainly not helping with said yearly bursting into flames.

If I remember the American Science Committee properly, there is no such thing as climate change, therefore no humans can be blamed for anything ever...

Honestly, screw that sensationalist title, that's not doing anyone any favors.

So the answer to that ridiculous title is no, but the effect is probably worsened by it. Come now, let's not stoop to clickbait-type titles.

RJ 17:
Wait, don't large portions of California burst into flames every summer? Seems a drought is the least of their worries...though I'd imagine it's certainly not helping with said yearly bursting into flames.

I had a Californian neighbor for two weeks and I ended up chatting with him, and apparently it's so bad that they have to import water. I'd eh, call that a pretty big worry.

And things combust a lot easier when they're really dry, that doesn't help either.

Silentpony:
While I completely agree climate change is fucking over California, part of the blame lies with building so many farms in the middle of a desert. That did the water no favors.

Isn't California really weird and varried in that regard? The fact that it has incredibly fertile areas for instance, like at the same time it has theclimatologically and geologically best area to grow wine grapes, Nappa Valley I think, yet at the same time it has incredibly parched parts.

You'd think that if it's indeed that fertile it'd be fine to have farms there. But now this is happening. I suppose they expanded out of those fertile areas into the parched parts?

Silentpony:
While I completely agree climate change is fucking over California, part of the blame lies with building so many farms in the middle of a desert. That did the water no favors.

this is the first thing I thought when I read this.

seriously the only parts of Cali that are really in trouble right now are the ones in the middle of the desert. I mean come on what did they expect? that the rains would come just because they turn the desert into farmland?

Was there any doubt as to whether or not California's drought was worsened by anthropocentric climate change?
Nope.

Did we really need this study?
Probably. Science is fundamentally a political process and these sorts of studies are what eventually translate into new laws even if they don't tell us anything new.

Is the US going to do anything about it?
I'm sure something will be done to make sure the major businesses and wealthy individuals living and working in California are made comfortable while they're in the area.

Can we expect California's climate to recover?
Unlikely. Expect continued environmental degradation.

Silentpony:
Snip.

mad825:
Snip.

Cowabungaa:
Snip.

ecoho:
Snip.

All depends on where you look. Northern California? Consisted of marshland and forest. Central California? Consisted of plains and marshland. Southern California? Consisted of savannas and deserts. And even then, you gotta look where those are at! Pull up a map of California and put it on the Bird's Eye view (Or whatever it is that shows the geological features) and you can see where each of those separate biomes are.

Honestly, this drought that's got the entire West Coast burning is bad and gonna suck hard. Them food prices will be rising if nothing's done!

mad825:

Silentpony:
While I completely agree climate change is fucking over California, part of the blame lies with building so many farms in the middle of a desert. That did the water no favors.

Farms? I thought it was the laughable notion of everyone wanting green lawns in the middle of a desert.

And then of course you've got all the bottled-water companies still being given free reign to drain the state of what little water it has left and sell for a dollar a liter, from what I hear.

This truly sucks, but the California government has been failing for 50 years to address this issue. There is a drought every single year in California. 50 years ago people started arguing for water desalination plants, and for 50 years the government has been ignoring the issue. We can't stop what has already be done, but we sure has hell can try to fix this going forward and that means that governments need to step in line for what is necessary so far as decisions are concerned. That is the point of them, to make big decisions, not worry about re-elections constantly.

The pain in the asses are developing nations. They don't have legislation in place for climate change. No matter how good we are in the US, there is still places like China. Every damn year the air gets cleaner here in my experience. I mean, I grew up and everything was gas guzzler that spewed out pollution. Factories dumped whatever they needed to dump where ever they needed to dump it. It's way better now than it was 20 years ago and it's only getting better. In the last 4 decades, diesel fuel has become 90% cleaner than it was, and it was better for the environment from day one than gasoline, and it's cheaper to produce. But we still have most vehicles using gasoline. It's just this kind of thing that confounds me all the time.

But, I digress. It's really a combination of things. Governments failing, bad companies taking advantage of those failing policies, people not being engaged in their local politics (that is how companies store toxic waste in your back yard).

I blame the people. Yep, the people. See, there were areas of grasses, bushes, and even trees. All that lush, oxygen-providing greenery was cleared out for houses....rows and rows of houses. Painted a nice light-reflecting white. And filled with oxygen absorbing, carbon dioxide spewing people. Each house of which has at least 1 vehicle, usually 2 or even 3!

But let us look at it more importantly in the aspects of what people are. They are humans. Humans are 55-75% liquid! The more humans that move into an area, breed, and spread population about, the more water/liquid that is needed to sustain said population.

Oh and yes, immigration does have a factor into this issue as well. When people form another location move from that location to a new one, they start to take up resources of the new location. They settle, they breed, they increase population with that area. BAM! More liquid jelly bags that are occupying the water supply within the area.

Blame the cities that keep expanding their populations.

Blame the contractors that keep building more houses to sell to out-of-state players.

Blame the lack of planting low water using, shade-providing plants/trees along the rivers, water reservoirs, streams, and crops (oh, and I KNOW that there are both hybrid bred and genetically engineered trees that use less than 1/8th the water of other trees while providing equal amount of leaf shade. I know this because when I was a kid we took a field trip to a place that grew these as well as got a few saplings to grow ourselves.)**.

Blame the farms who built farms in the middle of a freakin' desert!

Blame all Californians who lack the foresight for their own mistakes that were clear as day to the rest of the world.

**Go ahead and Google "Nebraska National Forest". Largest human made (planted) forest in the United States. They planted tons of trees in the Nebraska Sandhills between 1902 and present day. And to supplement the forest they have a nursery that provides millions of seedlings every year and they also go to forest services across the country.

Hey, anything to get San Francisco off the map.

InsanityRequiem:

Silentpony:
Snip.

mad825:
Snip.

Cowabungaa:
Snip.

ecoho:
Snip.

All depends on where you look. Northern California? Consisted of marshland and forest. Central California? Consisted of plains and marshland. Southern California? Consisted of savannas and deserts. And even then, you gotta look where those are at! Pull up a map of California and put it on the Bird's Eye view (Or whatever it is that shows the geological features) and you can see where each of those separate biomes are.

Honestly, this drought that's got the entire West Coast burning is bad and gonna suck hard. Them food prices will be rising if nothing's done!

the south is were the largest problems are, manly LA. the rest of the state can easily get by if they didn't have to support that southern part.

ecoho:
Snip.

And the issue with that is that Southern California (Los Angeles, San Diego, and the surrounding desert towns/cities) contains a rough estimate of over 60% of the state's population. Southern California isn't just Los Angeles. So if we're talking about large scale relocation of over 24 million people, the country will be negatively affected just by such a large population influx in nearby areas. This doesn't even take into account the negative affect it will have on the economy itself. Southern California has 10 ports along the shore, and these are the biggest, most busy ports in the United States, and shutting those down will drastically overload the rest of the ports along the Pacific Coast, not counting the economic impact of such a problem. And we can't forget the fact that Southern California has 25 military bases as well, now we have to deal with large scale military relocation, of all branches of the military.

The drought along the West Coast has gone far beyond the capabilities of California. It's a Federal Government problem now, and we all know that nothing will happen.

How utterly meaningless. This is bad political science. Here's some geology and history to wash away the taste of mob psychology.

"Ingram is referring to paleoclimatic evidence that California, and much of the American Southwest, has a history of mega-droughts that could last for decades and even centuries."

http://californiawaterblog.com/2011/04/12/mega-drought/
http://time.com/1986/hundred-years-of-dry-how-californias-drought-could-get-much-much-worse/

mad825:

Silentpony:
While I completely agree climate change is fucking over California, part of the blame lies with building so many farms in the middle of a desert. That did the water no favors.

Farms? I thought it was the laughable notion of everyone wanting green lawns in the middle of a desert.

A couple of weeks ago there was an article in a big newspaper here (the Netherlands) about the drought in California that featured a huge page-wide aerial photo of a town in California with every house having a big lawn and every other house a swimming pool. Across the street from those houses was miles of desert, with sand blowing onto the road.

My first thought: who the hell thought that was a good idea?

Actually, it was California's inability to look at itself and think "You know? A series of desalinization plants along the coast would work wonders.". True, they're expensive to build, but the process has been around a long time. Could've taken care of this YEARS ago.

Stupidity:
How utterly meaningless. This is bad political science. Here's some geology and history to wash away the taste of mob psychology.

"Ingram is referring to paleoclimatic evidence that California, and much of the American Southwest, has a history of mega-droughts that could last for decades and even centuries."

http://californiawaterblog.com/2011/04/12/mega-drought/
http://time.com/1986/hundred-years-of-dry-how-californias-drought-could-get-much-much-worse/

Read the source and you will note they say there would have been a bad drought with or without climate change. They are not disputing that. What they are saying is that it is going to be worse because of it.

(Minus points for Escapist for bad journalizm, since the title kind of implies that there would not have been a drought without climate change.)

Correction: Climate change guilty of overall global increase in extreme weather occurrences.

Climate change has always existed - it's why we had ice ages even before humanity was around to muck about with the planet. However, what we're doing certainly isn't helping to stem the global tide of atmospheric extremes.

FalloutJack:
Actually, it was California's inability to look at itself and think "You know? A series of desalinization plants along the coast would work wonders.". True, they're expensive to build, but the process has been around a long time. Could've taken care of this YEARS ago.

The issue with Desalinization is not so much the initial installment cost (which is substantial, don't get me wrong), but sustained costs.

Desalinization requires a huge amount of energy to operate because water is an incredible thermal capacitor and you need to heat water to steam to separate the solubles.

Cross-multiply that by your required supply, and it's only going to amount to a tiny trickle (at feasible costs), or hardcore deficit spending. (A bit of Google-fu finds figures that suggest the average cost to be 2000 USD per acre-foot annually; or 1300-2000 dollars a year for residential)

With strict conservation (no outdoor pools, no lawn watering), I wager that cost could be paired down, but it's still cold comfort for agriculture and industry, which require gobs of water commitment to operate.

InsanityRequiem:
The drought along the West Coast has gone far beyond the capabilities of California. It's a Federal Government problem now, and we all know that nothing will happen.

Quite true. It wouldn't be the first time California's antics have impacted the rest of us.
Deregulation was the reason I had to move, and a big proponent of that change started in Cali (and caused their energy crisis back in 2000-2001).

Atmos Duality:
$$$

That doesn't surprise me at all. However, it is both the price of giving an area which is not normally fluid-y some frigging water, and the absolute best option when you consider how much of your backyard (so to speak) is ocean. Suffice to say, it's a utility and therefore would probably be taxed to pay for, but it's much more reliable than the weather and mountain snow. The ocean has always been there. They should've cultivated it.

kuolonen:

Read the source and you will note they say there would have been a bad drought with or without climate change. They are not disputing that. What they are saying is that it is going to be worse because of it.

(Minus points for Escapist for bad journalizm, since the title kind of implies that there would not have been a drought without climate change.)

I realized that they were only saying it would make it worse. What annoys me is that "Worse" is impossible to quantify. What does worse than a possible centuries long mega drought even mean? We have no idea how bad its going to get or how bad droughts of this kind usually are. Were also talking about time scales on a geological scale, the shear number of factors and time involved makes it hard to pin down numbers. All we really know is that droughts much much worse than the current one have happened many time before humans settled the continent.
The article is riddled with "Like, Likelihood, Probably, odds and maybe."

You get no useful data from the original article, it exists only to grab attention by trying to make people feel bad and promote a anti republican agenda (I'm not American, I'm just calling it like I see it).

Climate change helped.

Also, its a desert. A DESERT. (yes not the entire state, but the main part dealing with drought).

Oh, and because we insist on ignoring our population crisis. This half-desert locale happens to hold more people then 122 other countries have. There are more people jammed into the state of California then the entirety of Canada.

And then its a surprise (but not really) that the land won't support this.

Atmos Duality:

FalloutJack:
Actually, it was California's inability to look at itself and think "You know? A series of desalinization plants along the coast would work wonders.". True, they're expensive to build, but the process has been around a long time. Could've taken care of this YEARS ago.

The issue with Desalinization is not so much the initial installment cost (which is substantial, don't get me wrong), but sustained costs.

Desalinization requires a huge amount of energy to operate because water is an incredible thermal capacitor and you need to heat water to steam to separate the solubles.

That's why more practical desalination equipment is built around reverse osmosis across a semi-permeable membrane.
Granted, that's not cheap either, and the membrane can break down rather quickly, but the energy requirements are more reasonable, being basically that of forcing the water through a membrane at high pressure.

Running high pressure pumping equipment requires a lot less energy than evaporative methods.

I don't know if large-scale reverse osmosis installations are feasible with current technology, (but small scale installations are common on small ocean-going craft), but they certainly don't demand the kind of energy evaporating and then re-condensing the water would.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desalination

You-ll note several methods, all of which try to avoid naively boiling water without some tricks to it.
(one other one worth mentioning looking at that page is low pressure evaporation. Water evaporates at much lower temperatures if you reduce the pressure, thus also reducing the energy involved)

Large-scale desalination is feasible, given what that page suggests. Several countries do it on a massive scale.

Hey guys, they're on this.

California is currently building (and has almost completed) one of the worlds largest desalination plant down in San Diego. Now, while this won't immediately address the issue that California is seeing over the industrial use of water in farming (wrong part of the state for that...) the thing that is important is that in order for this plant to be even built it had to survive something like 15 legal challenges. The fact that everything is clear and ready to come online means that one of the biggest barriers (other than cost) for using technology to solve the drought problem is over and the path is clear for other projects to start.

The other thing people have to remember is that nothing will likely be done about this until the cost of not doing something about it surpasses the cost of building and running the plant. California's middle belt drought problem is entirely due to commercial farming and not due to people watering lawns or taking showers. So as much as people like to complain about why there is a lack of water along the Grapevine, in the end it doesn't matter because there is no near term solution other than moving water from somewhere else to there. Once the cost of moving water from out of state (like say, the colorado river) becomes too high then they'll probably build a plant (and keep complaining all along the way).

If the drought is caused by climate change or not is pretty much a moot point. Take for instance where I live - I moved to Australia a few years ago and the year after the region I lived in came out of a massive drought. A couple of years after that we went completely the other way with massive flooding that actually put the city I live in under water. I can raise my finger in the air and go "Eureka! Climate change caused this!" and ultimately it doesn't mean a damn thing because it's not going to change the weather...

I'm not saying that these aren't large problems, I'm just pointing out that the "why" of it happening isn't nearly as important as the "what are you going to do about it" part.

Reading stuff like this is both funny and depressing at the same time.
It's like, we know that environments and such can and will change, and yet surprised when they do.
Where I live, we have a place that used to be a port/harbor during the viking age, but now is somewhat far from the sea and farmed land. Point being things change, as everything, even the temperature is subject to change no matter what we do. We may have some effect on it, but to think we can stop this change is ridiculous.

What we should do is what we have always done and what humans are superior at, and that is adapt. If you can't do that, move.

The way I see it, some places we are just not meant to live as we need certain things like water to stay alive. If you want to stay and live in a place with no water.. well.. good luck to you, but I just cannot feel sorry for you.

I think the important thing to remember is that climate change doesn't inherently *cause* anything. This isn't a disaster movie where climate change will suddenly cause the apocalypse. It's a lot more gradual process, which is partly why it's such a hard issue to get people to care about.

What climate change does do, is accentuate weather patterns. Summers become hotter, winters become harsher, droughts (which California was already prone to) become more intense, hurricanes become more common and/or powerful, and so on and so forth. It's not going to be some super-storm or heat-wave caused by global warming that winds up killing us, it's more than likely going to be crop failure. If the climate changes enough to where major crops begin to fail (corn especially for the US), you're talking unprecedented disaster. Most of our food, and most of our food animals, uses corn in one stage of the manufacturing process or another.

So, yeah, that's kind of the big thing about climate change. It isn't some big, apocalyptic weather event that wipes out a city... it's all these little changes. All these various different weather patterns getting more intense and more off the rails, until something fails in our infrastructure or agricultural base. It won't wipe out humanity, but a lot of people can still die or get hurt, and our overall standard of living as a species begins to drop.

Silentpony:
Farms? I thought it was the laughable notion of everyone wanting green lawns in the middle of a desert.

Compared to farming everything else is small potatoes.

That said, California still has about 20% margin ... if it doesn't mind running the delta completely dry.

Global warming has caused Sacharan dessert to expend for miles. Of course it had an effect on this drought. the question is only "how big".

username sucks:
As a Californian, I don't care about blame, just use some fancy science to make it rain already!

The technology to make clouds form and rain is actually available since cold war. Soviets used it sometimes. The reason you dont really hear about it is because it is VERY bad for eviroment and noone wants to use it as anything but last resort before abandoning earth. Except, of course, Soviets, that used it from time to time.

Strazdas:

username sucks:
As a Californian, I don't care about blame, just use some fancy science to make it rain already!

The technology to make clouds form and rain is actually available since cold war. Soviets used it sometimes. The reason you dont really hear about it is because it is VERY bad for eviroment and noone wants to use it as anything but last resort before abandoning earth. Except, of course, Soviets, that used it from time to time.

I was just making a joke, but thanks for the information! I'll treasure it as I dry up and become a raisin.

 

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