Climate Impacts in the Capital Region
Climate change is a global issue, but ultimately has local impacts. Outlined below are some of the unique challenges that the Capital Region will face as climate impacts increase.
Increased Flood Risk
More extreme weather – Projected increase in extremes of wet and dry will mean stronger, more sudden storms.
- Higher-volume runoff – Warmer winters will lead to more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow, and accelerated melting of the Sierra snowpack each year.
- Greater vulnerability – Land subsidence combined with sea-level rise could increase the amount of land vulnerable to 100-year flood events and weaken levees.
Reduced Water Supply
Decreased rainfall – Climate change could increase the frequency, length, and intensity of drought periods in California.
- Shrinking snowpack – The Sierra Nevada snowpack is a critical year-round reservoir, but has been declining over the past 50 years due to warmer, drier winters, reaching a record 5 percent of its normal volume in April 2015.
- Summer shortage – Earlier melting of the Sierra Nevada snowpack decreases water availability in critical summer periods and deteriorates water quality.
- A thirstier world – Warmer temperatures will increase water demand across our urban and natural systems.
- Faster, stronger, fiercer – Decreased pre
cipitation, warmer temperatures, and decades of fire suppression have turned our forests into a tinderbox, leading to larger, fiercer, and faster wildfires.
- Unhealthy forests – Drought, as well as insects and pests, which thrive in warmer environments, are already severely deteriorating tree health, increasing fire risks.
- Widespread consequences – Wildfires result in enormous amounts of hazardous air pollutants as well as greenhouse gas emissions, damage watersheds and habitats, increase landslide risks, and threaten vital energy infrastructure such as transmission lines and natural gas pipelines.
Increased Public Health Impacts
Extreme heat – Climate change is projected to bring the Capital Region more frequent, longer, and more severe extreme heat days and heat waves, which can lead to respiratory difficulties, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, with potentially life-threatening consequences.
- Infectious disease – Warmer temperatures will expand the range of vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, West Nile virus, dengue fever, and hanta virus.
- Vulnerable populations – The elderly, children, people with existing health conditions, economically disadvantaged, and people who work outdoors will be disproportionately at risk for these and other health impacts.
Critical Infrastructure Impacts
Heat stress – Extreme heat can add additional stress to California’s aging infrastructure, threatening passenger safety and negatively impacting regional and interstate trade and goods transport.
- Power outages and inefficiencies – Increased air conditioning use during hotter summers will increase electricity demand, but at the same time extreme heat will also decrease generator and power line efficiencies, while hydroelectricity may decrease due to reduced water supply.
- Greater capital costs – Heat and lack of nighttime cooling may decrease lifespan for critical grid infrastructure and other equipment.
Endangered Natural Systems and Biodiversity
Nature at risk – Changes in temperature, precipitation, growing season, and water availability associated with climate change will have a profound impact on the Capital Region’s forests, meadows, wetlands, and mountains, as well as their plant and animal species.
- Humans lose too – Natural systems provide key benefits such as fresh drinking water through riparian zones, clean air from forests, grazing for livestock, and recreational and aesthetic values, all of which are likely to be negatively affected by climate change impacts.
Greater Risk to Agriculture and Our Economy
Decreased agricultural productivity – The Capital Region is known for its agricultural bounty, but rising temperatures, reduced water availability, warmer winters, changing precipitation patterns, and the proliferation of pests can all deteriorate the productivity and quality of the region’s agricultural sector.
- Dry winters, empty slopes – Warmer, drier winters are already hurting the northern California ski and snowboard industry, which accounts for $1.2 billion in economic activity each year.
- Cascading effects – Greater risks to health care, infrastructure, agriculture, and other services will likely increase costs for all sectors of the economy.
- Business resilience is community resilience – Small businesses will be especially vulnerable to the risks of climate change.
- Looking upstream – In this globalized economy, changes elsewhere in resource availability, extreme weather, transport, and other factors could disrupt upstream supply chains and costs. Regionally, drought will impact enterprises that use water or local agricultural inputs in their production processes.