The recent wildfires that wreaked havoc on our state – and the West – made my heart sick, not just due to the loss of life and destruction of homes and businesses, but because I fear there will be an ever-increasing number of natural disasters due to climate change.

In coming years, there will be more sustained droughts, hurricanes lashing the Gulf and East Coasts and the Caribbean, and stronger winds to stoke the deadly wildfires destroying our beautiful forests and causing us to choke on the air we breathe.

Much of the political and media commentary on how to deal with these natural disasters made worse by climate change has been on the need for investment in more clean-energy technology. I cannot disagree with that sentiment and fully support government policies to slow the pace of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, what is missing from this viewpoint is that California cannot do much to slow the pace of climate change. Our planet is warming and pollution created in the developing world, or here at home, is going to continue to outpace our planet’s ability to absorb these environmental shocks.

In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency that closely monitors our environment, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air rose more than 2 parts per million for the second year in a row, in 2016. Last year, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the highest levels in over 10,000 years. This increase passed what many climate scientists call the “point of no return,” or a threshold meaning that climate change is irreversible.

Which brings me to the reason for writing this opinion piece: California and the nation need to immediately begin taking steps to prepare for more severe and extraordinary weather events and natural disasters associated with climate change.

This means our elected leaders in Sacramento, in cities across the state and in our nation’s capital must improve our ability to manage these calamities and get serious about preparing for climate change. For instance, the current situation in Puerto Rico, where much of the island still lacks access to electricity and even clean water, shows just how much damage a serious hurricane can cause if the government is not prepared.

It is also unacceptable that American citizens live in such terrible conditions, without more support from President Donald Trump and the Congress.

Going forward, there needs to be stronger partnerships between government and the private sector to improve our nation’s infrastructure. This means better roads, stronger bridges and ports hardened to withstand the impacts of climate change. It also means stronger public/private partnerships for the government to work with the utilities to strengthen the grid.

Ultimately, I believe one day our world will be cleaner and more verdant. But until then, the government must get serious about taking steps to inoculate ourselves the best we can against a rising tide of natural disasters.

Ron Dellums represented California’s 9th District in the United States Congress from 1971–1998, and served as mayor of Oakland from 2007-2010.

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