From the Publisher: Time to Deal With Climate Change

Arnold G. York

Every day we see evidence that the world’s climate appears to be changing. The latest was this typhoon in the Philippines with winds up in the 195 MPH-range and gusts up to 245 MPH. I’ve been in a typhoon with winds at 100 MPH and you couldn’t stand up without hanging onto something. No human being, no matter how strong, can handle 200 MPH winds. If you’re caught directly in it, it means death.

I don’t think it much matters whether this weather shift is manmade, just a natu- ral cycle in the weather or a combination of both. What we know empirically is that it’s happening. According to some weather experts, the last century or two have been remarkably temperate and that may very well be coming to an end with harsher weather on the way. But this is not some story you just read about in the New York Times science section. It’s definitely here, now and very local.

You don’t have to go far to become a believer. Just drive down to Broad Beach here in Malibu, and try to walk the beach where there is enough beach to walk. Twenty years ago, after the 1993 fire, Karen and I lived on Broad Beach. The beach had sand dunes and looked like Cape Cod in the northeast. That is no longer the case.

Those dunes are gone and they’re trying to find sand to replace the diminishing beach. I’ve heard people say that the loss of sand is due to construction, dams and diversions of natural drainage. Some of that may be partially true. But it’s delusional to think this is just some sort of local problem. Vanity Fair recently ran a very good story about shrinking beaches. It showed Broad Beach Road today and 20 years ago. It showed an Atlantic beach with exactly the same type of diminished beach and a row of homes in danger. You didn’t have to read the story. It was enough just to look at the pictures to see what’s happened.

The changes we think are coming have already come, and are going to change our world in ways that we can hardly imagine. It’s not just the shoreline that’s going to recede. It might well change the face of agriculture in California. We have an enormous agricultural industry that grows many crops we may not be able to grow in the future.

The new weather will change air and the way it moves. It will impact smog, and that means it will impact health. We have an enormous amount of infrastructure along the oceans like harbors, power plants, sew- age plants, railroad lines, marinas and airports. So when I hear some say that we need a policy of retreat—which means moving back from the ocean, up into the hills—I begin to wonder what some people are smoking.

If we are to survive, we’re going to have to change our thinking about how we han- dle these changes and how the governmen- tal rules will have to change also to adapt to the new reality. Let’s take a couple of simple examples:

The California Coastal Commission discourages what they call the “armoring of the coast.” The idea is that if you build seawalls here, it impacts areas further down the coast. There is some possible truth to that. But what do you do when the entire coast is under attack from climate change? Do you stop people from trying to protect their homes or beaches or do you build big breakwaters or even dikes? I suggested dikes to a local environmentalist and he vis- ibly blanched. After all, they do it in the Netherlands. If it wasn’t for dikes and sea- walls, the entire low country would prob- ably be under water.

How about native plants? You hear constant chatter about non-native plants and exotics that are destroying Southern California flora. What’s a non-native plant if the climate changes? Can it happen with- out changing the plant life, the animals, the fish, the entire food chain that feeds them and us?

A lot of these things we take for granted—a stable shoreline, mellow weather, a reasonable supply of water, rich soil, energy sources. Those may all change, and the rules are going to have to change or we may end up as another extinct species.

P.S. Paul Mantee, a longtime friend and Malibu Times colleague passed away after an extended and courageous battle with can-er. We will all miss him.