Climate Change in CA: successful adaptive transformation

Maybe it was the holiday strikes of 2019, when the kids walked out, telling their parents and the world that they had nothing to be thankful for and what they wanted for Christmas was a planet they could live on.  Or maybe it was the unbearable hot, smoky August and September and October and the pictures of that fire raging through that school. Maybe the politicians finally listened to the polls saying that Californians were desperate to address climate change. But there were no real protests when Governor Newsom declared a statewide emergency and unveiled his shocking climate plan. People were prepared by the analogy to the WWII homefront, and were ready to do their part the way their grandparents did. It would take the rest of the decade to ramp up, but by the last few years, the benefits were already paying off.

Starting instantly

The State stopped making it worse. Oil and gas extraction ended on Day 1. (When the oil companies sued for takings, the State seized their properties and CARB instituted a retroactive carbon absorption fee for California’s atmosphere.)  Permitting for development in floodplains, wildfire areas and on the coast was immediately halted and cities that weren’t creating new dense housing lost their land use authority. The State imposed shocking gas taxes, and returned the proceeds to the poorest half of Californians. The ag districts in the SWP were immediately shut down, as were any dairies with more than a couple hundred cows.

Major research programs were begun.  Google and Facebook began a program to create carbon budgets for every person, measured and traded by phone. The weapons industry was told to do something useful for a change, and develop carbonless aviation and shipping.

Years 0-3

California immediately designated five new future UC campuses, in Visalia, Redding, Camp Roberts, Ventura and Fresno. It began building out residences for 40,000 people at each new campus. For the first decade, however, the future campuses would house refugees who wanted to earn California citizenship by doing four years of paid climate labor.

The potential work was endless. Fighting fires. Installing solar panels. Planting urban trees. Building housing. Installing cooling centers and pools. Clearing dead trees in the Sierras.  Building up sheep and goat grazing stocks to clear fire fuels. Moving levees back from rivers; restoring riparian habitats. Restoring tule marsh in the Delta, island by island. Building high speed rail. California was lucky to absorb tens of thousands of refugees and their families each year, willing to work for pay, education and state citizenship.

These early years felt hard. The hits kept coming: the heat waves, the fires, the drought. The disruption of construction on every block. People scrambled as long commutes became too expensive, but new housing close to work wasn’t built yet. The Olds hated the changes, talked about how everything used to be cheaper. The Youngs, though, just felt relieved that maybe they had a chance.

Years 4-7

By years 4 and 5, the building spree was beginning to pay off. Dorms and family housing at the five new campuses were nearly complete; the academic buildings were starting to go up. Throughout the state, the ex-urban fringes were emptying out, moving into town. People talked about their old commutes like a horror movie. Electricity from renewables, at least, was cheap and plentiful. People were adjusting to their personal carbon budgets, clamoring for the app to recognize the carbon sequestration in their backyard compost. The first group of refugees finished their four years of service.  Many stayed on, working the jobs they knew, in the places they had built. Others moved throughout the state, glad that they had had a stable transition. There were always more coming behind, hoping to fill their spaces.

The habitat work continued, led by Tribes, building on itself.  California set up a food security regime, creating an agricultural zone on three million acres of its best soils and most robust water sources, growing food for direct human consumption. CA would ensure this land would get water in the driest years. Other previous ag land was transitioned to sequestering carbon or solar power.

It was about year 6 that people started to notice that things had stopped getting worse every year. They had heatwaves, but everyone could get to cold water to cool off and mostly everyone had air conditioning powered by solar. In year 6, instead of losing an additional town to fire every year, CA lost no towns to fire. The fuels management, grazing and intentional burns, and the new building codes were starting to catch up. By good luck (and good choices when the project was selected) when the flood came, it was held within the new setback levees, where it sat, recharging groundwater for six months into the summer.  (The mosquitos were horrendous, but it was better than being washed away.)

Years 8-10

The carbon sequestration/habitat restoration projects were really starting to settle in and complexify.  People began to accept that they were the work of many lifetimes, and each of the new UCs had departments dedicated to the study of local restoration. Even these newly restored habitats were doing their jobs; seagrasses were reversing beach erosion and softening waves. Soils were re-gaining their organic content and holding more water; rivers were finding their old meanders and re-connecting to groundwater. The State proudly displayed their ticker of Total Carbon Sequestered on all of their websites.

The unceasing urban building boom in the most robust areas was finally catching up to demand. Housing was affordable, if smaller than before, and there were vacancies for incoming climate refugees.  All urban power had been renewable for a couple years.  The newly dense cities were also growing niche enterprises and becoming intricate. The trees planted ten years ago were starting to give useful shade. Micro-sequestration was the gardening fad. The State kept its promise and turned all five campuses into U.C.’s; tuition was free to all who had helped build them.

The upfront costs had been staggering, but by the end of the decade, they looked like a good investment. The news was no longer a weekly bludgeon of natural disasters. In fact, there was a steady stream of stories about species saved from the brink of extinction. Californians didn’t cough through smoke for two months in the Fall; the costs of fire management had leveled off. The Big Flood hadn’t incurred any response expenses; it had become an asset. The states who hadn’t prepared were now desperately asking for federal emergency money, but that had been long overwhelmed.

Mostly, people were used to it. The Olds resented how expensive meat and wine had gotten and missed their cars. But some found the low-carbon lifestyle familiar. It reminded them of a time with less stuff but better neighborhood life. The Youngs were used to living in dense cities; happy they could own their own place.  Their kids ran free in carless streets. A huge portion of their cohort had been part of the restoration projects and were forever attached to the trees, grasses and sea marshes they had planted. The worldwide need was still desperate, but California had shown people what could be done with a population willing to fight the emergency on every front.

UPDATE: This is bad form for a blog, but I am still tinkering with the post. If you think you notice small changes, you are likely right.


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19 responses to “Climate Change in CA: successful adaptive transformation

  1. onthepublicrecord

    “Many said it would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for the generous UBI for everyone in California. Without UBI, there would have been too much pushback as certain industries were ended and those jobs lost. But with UBI, families could hold out until they found new work. The UBI was paid for by confiscating all fortunes over $10M, and it was money well re-distributed.”

    • Mel

      ^ Great add! This is all just excellent. Humbly sharing a few minor suggestions by email, and urging you to both submit this to and get it out there as an op-ed or at the very least on Medium or something – but mostly just thank you for articulating what I dream of when I’m not having climate-fueled insomnia.

  2. onthepublicrecord

    The best that I can figure, a complete societal transformation like the one I described is the softest, easiest path to a new way of living.

    If it doesn’t seem possible, then we will transform in painful involuntary ways.

    • Noel Park

      Alas, it appears to me that we will continue to dither until the painful involuntary ways manifest themselves.

      At 75, I probably qualify as “Old”. Even so, I would support a program such as you have outlined. I have two grandchildren who will very likely live to bear the brunt of the painful involuntary ways. If we have any sense of responsibility we will act now and spare them the worst of it. But I’m not optimistic.

      The fate of the world could very well turn on the 2020 election.

  3. onthepublicrecord

    If you guys leave comments/edits that can improve this, maybe we could submit it as an op-ed somewhere. People need a vision.

    • Jessica

      I mean, seriously. I think it’s good as is. I’m still tearing up.

    • Anonymous

      It’s good as is. It’s a vision.

    • anonymous2

      Yes, submit as an op-ed, not just to CA-news, to international news sources. Please, though, protect your privacy. Re: comments/edits that can improve this: I would dilute the comments referring to The Olds and The Youngs. They are too provocative and divisive. And there are plenty of older people who support your vision, who have lived through tougher times. And plenty of young people who are sceptics. Might be better to describe how sceptics in general, regardless of background, gain an understanding based on positive experiences and embrace the programs fighting climate change and environmental degradation. I think the time line is pretty ambitious, but sounds great. I’d like to hear more about the political effects on other states and countries, and how they join together, following CA’s lead, in a concerted international effort to save the planet, fomenting (more) new technological advances to clean the oceans and air, preserve and restore habitat across political borders. Maybe something about how the educational system is revamped and improved so that all children have access to high quality education, STEM including ecology is taught in all schools and daycare centers (which, in this brave new world, are free/subsidized and located in every neighborhood, so people can walk/bike their children to daycare, then walk/bike to work..maybe this concept is too outside the scope of the vision for now though….) along with educaion in all religions, ethics, philosophy and critical thinking (as is done in some Scandinavian countries). Thank you! Inspiring.

  4. Forward on to the presses~!

    On Thu, Jun 20, 2019 at 3:49 PM On the public record wrote:

    > onthepublicrecord posted: “Maybe it was the holiday strikes of 2019, when > the kids walked out, telling their parents and the world that they had > nothing to be thankful for and what they wanted for Christmas was a planet > they could live on. Or maybe it was the unbearable hot, smoky” >

  5. Bill Deaver

    My family moved to Mojave from a filthy air Arvin in 1948. Air here wasn’t all that clean until the railroads switched to diesel locos from bunker C-burning steam engines and the cement plants cleaned up their act. We now have our own East Kern APCD to keep the air clean for our thriving air and space industry and we have some 700 people working in wind and solar.
    Our folks also lived longer than they would have if we had stayed in the Valley and I’m 83…

  6. Anonymous

    Or leave it as a comment:

    • onthepublicrecord

      I probably should. In the olden days, I could be reasonably sure that the administration was directly reading the blog.

  7. Linda F

    It was the most optimistic thing I have read in a long time. Pray for it.

  8. Max Gomberg

    Some of us who work for the state agencies read and appreciate your analysis and vision. Whether the current administration will listen to any of us, however, remains uncertain.

  9. I like it. To those who say dream on, consider how fast So Cal water agencies moved to put low-flow toilets in millions of homes when the Colorado crashed in the early naughts. Imagine, just for a start, if cities moved with the same urgency to install solar on every roof?

  10. anonymous

    Please, run for office. You have my vote. Your vision gives me hope, although I am pretty darn cynical.

  11. Steve Bloom

    Please see my comment about a prospective statewide climate initiative for 2020 under the next post.