This opinion piece appeared in The Fresno Bee on December 14, 2018.
By Kevin Hall
Climate change denial is alive and well in the San Joaquin Valley. Most worryingly, it is the dominant opinion among politicians serving on our regional air quality board. The eight-county agency handles hundreds of millions of dollars annually in state funds dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases, and the money couldn’t be in worse hands.
At issue is our children’s survival. Not our grandchildren, this generation. The babes and toddlers around us already face an uncertain adulthood due to the latent excess heat stored in the ocean that will be warming the planet for decades to come.
Last year’s jump in global emissions has the world on track with scientists’ worst-case outcome. Under that scenario, sometime between 2030 and 2050 six thresholds known as “tipping points” get crossed at a 1.5 C increase in global average temperature, unleashing natural stores of greenhouse gases that no amount of reductions by humans can reverse.
Yet climate-change deniers on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board have gone so far as blame the tragic loss of life in the climate-fueled Camp fire on a lack of logging. They mistakenly claim forest management practices are responsible for all state wildfires in recent years, though the majority of the deadly infernos have been at foothill elevations, and most important, increasingly frequent wildfires of greater intensity are now a worldwide phenomenon.
It’s not possible to provide specific citations from air board meetings so people might witness this appalling ignorance firsthand. The secretive agency refuses to post an online archive of its proceedings.
Clearly this body is ill-suited for its role in helping to address the immediate and long-term threats of our destabilizing atmosphere, despite the threats faced by 4 million, soon to be 6 million, Valley residents.
Consider the risk from wildfire. Foothill communities lying at the mouths of the canyons and river gorges of the Sierra Nevada could face the same meteorological conditions that led to the deaths of unfortunate Butte County residents in Magalia and Paradise. Like here, the populations of those towns were disproportionately retirees, many of whom had physical mobility limitations and couldn’t escape the flames.
All that’s missing, for now, are the high easterly winds that drove the incineration of 70,000 acres in 24 hours, spawned a fire tornado and took at least 85 lives. Such winds are possible here now as the jet stream’s path becomes increasingly unstable, dipping further south and more forcefully into this region.
The urgently needed adaptations and pollution reduction efforts are complex, involved and expensive. And they’re beyond the interest and ability of our air board.
Of its 15 members, two are appointed by the governor for their expertise in health or air pollution-related science; no complaints there.
But of the remaining 13, eight are county supervisors, one each from Kern to San Joaquin. Five more are city council members, two from cities with populations of greater than 100,000 and three from smaller cities.
The white, male, conservative perspective is grossly overrepresented. With less than 40 percent of the Valley population, whites hold 92 percent of these board seats; men, with less than half the population, comprise 84 percent; and Republicans, a mere third of registered voters, are at 92 percent.
This select group is bound to a political ideology that seemingly requires them to ignore basic science and promote an agenda of less regulation, more pollution, and disregard for everyone’s health and safety.
Let’s reform our air board.
This will take state legislation and uncommon leadership from our Sacramento delegation. An earlier attempt lasted five years and yielded minimal improvement. Democrats including Juan Arambula then proved nearly as intractable as their Republican colleagues, and two more recent disappointments were Michael Rubio and Henry T. Perea, both of whom left office early and now work as oil industry lobbyists.
The push for reform and a realistic action plan must come from the grassroots, pressuring politicians at every level of government for immediate action. A volunteer effort, #ValleyClimate, is underway. For a presentation in your community, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @sjvalleyclimate.