A week of public outcry over the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s decision to shutoff power to much of the state and preempt the possibility of wildfire amid dangerous weather culminated with a climate change conference in Napa.
The extreme winds that California experienced this past week and historically are expected to become more common as temperatures increase, said Paul Ullrich, an associate professor at the University of California, Davis and a speaker at the Saturday event hosted by the Democrats of Napa Valley in the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. More frequent extreme winds could mean more PG&E power shutoffs.
The past week’s events “couldn’t have been better advertising” for the Climate of Action conference, said Johanna O’Kelley, president of the Democrats of Napa Valley in her opening remarks.
In addition to extreme winds, Ullrich said Californians in decades to come can expect more heat waves, drought, extreme storms and — as a result of these changes — wildfires. California will likely see an increase in the number of extreme fire years.
There could be 40 to 50 more extreme heat days per year, he said. The state’s wet season from December to February will become wetter and produce more vegetation, and the fall and spring will get drier.
By 2050, snowpacks could suffer a 30 percent loss and places such as Sacramento could see flooding. 2070 may be the first year without mountain snow. The end of the century could spell a 90 percent decline in the average winter snow pack.
“As a result, we have to build infrastructure, we have to adjust to a future where things are more extreme than they already are,” Ullrich said.
Speaker Carl Pope, climate adviser to Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club CEO, asked, “How did we get here and how do we get out of it?”
Last week’s outage marked the first major power shutoff anywhere in the world as a risk-management measure, he said. Pope noted that it struck the San Francisco Bay Area, known for its technological contributions to the world, yet lines could only be re-energized after manual inspections — not by drones.
When Pope asked the crowd who lost power or access to a service because the provider lost power, much of the room raised their hands. PG&E, he said, was not the problem.
“California’s landscape was designed to burn,” Pope said.
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People have prevented it from burning the way it used to for about 100 years. That’s resulted in a “phenomenal fuel load on the landscape.”
California used to see frequent, small fires during cooler springtime weather. By October, all the fuel had burned.
Now, there’s not enough money in the state budget to get rid of all that fuel.
Infrastructural changes, such as underground power lines in wooded areas, can be paid for by savings earned from replacing electricity created from fossil fuels with electricity from renewable sources, Pope said. If the sun shines on your house, you can produce electricity.
While Ullrich spoke of extreme weather and Pope talked about ways to build community resilience, others spoke of the Green New Deal, food waste, achieving net-zero emissions and reducing carbon footprints.
Climate of Action was the brainchild of Democrats of Napa Valley President O’Kelley, who was disappointed that climate change wasn’t a bigger issue during last year’s election cycle. She floated the idea at a Democrats of Napa Valley meeting, and it took off from there.
“It was on,” she said. “I had to do it.”
O’Kelley said she wanted the event to drive home the importance of taking action, whether it be in someone’s personal life, or by advocating for green issues at the city, state or federal level.
The Democrats of Napa Valley operated a voter registration table and gave people the opportunity to sign pledges to stop using single-use plastic water bottles, commit to supporting climate change, and support Democratic candidates and initiatives related to climate change.
Other organizations with tables at the event included Napa Schools for Climate Action, the Sierra Club, Napa Climate Now and Napa Recycling, which offered education on how to sort trash from recycling and composting bins.
“This is just one day, but hopefully … this will have long-term effects,” O’Kelley said.