Santa Barbara County is in the process of developing what they term a “Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment.” How much they are going to pay to find out that weather changes have had dramatic impacts on the population since people started recording these events is unknown.
One of the assumptions in this study is that “as greenhouse gas emissions build in the atmosphere and global temperatures continue to rise, primary climate stressors at the local level are likely to become more severe, such as changes in air temperature, precipitation, sea level rise, and ocean acidification.”
When I was a kid living in the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s, the temperature in the summers usually ran above 100 degrees for several weeks. Winters were cooler and one winter it snowed ankle deep in Sylmar (northeast corner of Los Angeles City).
Of course, the snow was gone by noon, but most of the fruit in the orange groves that once dotted the valley froze that year.
According to the National Weather Service, the historical high temperature in Burbank was 108 in 1973; in Palmdale and Lancaster it was 113 in 1961; and in Woodland Hills it was 109 in 1973.
Since you can’t change facts, it doesn’t look like recorded high temperatures have changed much in over 50 years.
During this period, I can recall several large brush fires. One in November 1961, named the Bel Air Fire, was in the hills separating the metropolitan Los Angeles area from the San Fernando Valley.
There were 484 exclusive homes of the rich and famous that were destroyed, and the winter rains that followed flooded most canyon streets. And in June 1990 the Painted Cave Fire on the South Coast burned 427 buildings and killed 2 people.
Large fires followed by floods occurred before all the hype about global warming began, and still occur today.
Another section of the assessment assumes that the most vulnerable are frontline communities of people “who experience the impacts of climate change earlier and/or to a disproportionately severe degree than others in the unincorporated county.”
These communities are defined as seniors on fixed incomes, median/low-income families, the chronically unemployed, persons with disabilities and so on.
Try and sell that finding to many families in Montecito who not only lost their loved ones and homes, but the property they once owned was simply erased from the landscape in the flooding that followed the Thomas Fire. Most of these families certainly didn’t fit into so called “frontline community” status.
Earthquakes, fires, and floods don’t impact people based on gender, employment status, ethnic background, health history, age, or economic status; they simply injure or kill everyone in their path and destroy their property.
Throughout this 304-page document, the writers try to make the case that the temperature is going up and then make guesses as to what changes might occur several years from now. I have a hard time accepting these predictions because if you follow the daily weather reports of meteorologists, they have a hard time predicting next week’s climate outlook with any accuracy.
They are however very good at reporting what occurred yesterday.
How the climate is measured has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Prior to 1970, an observer would read instruments at thousands of regional weather recording stations to create manually maintained data bases. They would then report their observations to a regional weather center verbally, and weather prediction charts were prepared for the next few days.
Recently Landsat 9 was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base; this is the latest in a series of this type of instrument that according to NASA is used to measure “the thermal infrared radiation, or heat (brightness temperature), of Earth’s surfaces.”
As tools have improved, even to this day predicting next week’s climate outlook with any accuracy is hit-and-miss. Thus, you see that any comparison to past data collected from analog gauges read by the human eye to those of thermal imaging satellites is like comparing a digital photograph to a crayon drawing of the same subject.
On the positive side, the assessment does point out that many areas of the community are vulnerable to fire, flood, and landslide. These same areas are also vulnerable to earthquakes.
The nexus here is that just as earthquakes cannot be either predicted with any accuracy or prevented, neither can changes to the weather that have occurred during various periods over thousands of years of the Earth’s history.
The only consistency associated with weather change is that major fires and floods occur periodically, so the “Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment” is a needed emergency planning exercise.
And preventive measures like vegetation and flood channel management, regional evacuation plans, and updating building codes to prevent fire spread and facilitate evacuation during these disasters are essential.
But changing the weather, just like preventing earthquakes, isn’t a viable prevention tool, and claiming that one population group is more impacted than another is simply not supported by history.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving for 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions, retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.