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Concerned About Jobs? Then You Should Be Concerned About Climate Change, Too -- Here's Why

If we do nothing about climate change -- jobs will be affected in every sector -- from construction to health care and farms to ports.

[Drafted with Jeremy Brecher and Lisa Hoyos]

What will be the impact of climate change on California workers if the US and other countries around the world fail to significantly reduce green house gas emissions? In other words, what happens in a "do nothing" scenario?

Climate scientists have established that climate change is caused by "greenhouse gasses," especially carbon dioxide, which trap the sun's heat and therefore raise the earth's temperature. Average California temperatures are already rising; they are expected to rise by 2-5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 and -- in a do-nothing scenario -- rise 4-9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

The rising temperature of the earth has all kinds of serious effects that are plaguing us now and will do so even more over the course of this century if we just continue at our present course. In California:

  • Sea level rise: San Francisco Bay's sea level rose by 7 inches in the 20th century. New scientific findings indicate that in a do-nothing scenario California sea level may rise by as much as 55 inches this century, and that the amount could be much higher. A twelve inch rise in sea levels would mean that ocean flooding that now occurs once a century will occur once a decade, risking breach of levees, flooding of agricultural land, and contamination of fresh water. The U.S. Geological Survey classifies much of the area around Los Angeles and San Diego and around the Humboldt, San Francisco, and Monterey Bays as at "very high" risk.
  • Droughts: Precipitation is expected to grow more irregular, with greater risk of both flooding and droughts. Droughts have already increased and are expected to increase dramatically, with critically dry years three times as frequent. As more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow, an 80% decline in the Sierra snowpack is predicted, creating statewide water shortage in late spring and summer. Average annual water availability in Southern California may decrease by 40%.
  • Forest fires: Intensified dry seasons are leading to larger and more frequent forest fires. The 2006 wildfires forced the evacuation of more than 900,000 people, the largest evacuation for fire in US history. In a do-nothing scenario the number of wildfires could increase by up to 169 percent by 2085.
  • Floods: Higher sea levels and increased winter rains are likely to lead to levee failure, salt water contamination of fresh water, and destruction of habitats.
  • Heat waves: In a do-nothing scenario, extreme temperatures that currently occur every 100 years are expected to occur nearly every year by the end of this century. The number of heat wave days in California cities will quadruple. High ozone days could increase by 80%.

Many of these effects will reinforce each other. For example, the combination of rising sea levels and floods from winter rains can combine to threaten levees.

These are conservative estimates; each year's evidence indicates that global warming and its climate effects are happening much faster than previously believed. Global warming may also lead to "tipping points" like melting of Arctic sea ice or release of frozen methane from the Arctic tundra that would lead to abrupt and even more extreme climate change.

Fortunately, there is a way to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. We can greatly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses we put into the atmosphere. The world's leading organization of climate scientists, the Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that climate can be stabilized by reducing developed country emissions to 25-40 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 and 85-95 percent by 2050. That will require big changes -- but if labor is involved in shaping those changes, we can ensure that they are worker friendly.

What climate change means for California workers -- some examples:

What will happen to California workers if we do nothing to reduce greenhouse gasses? We will look at the projected impacts climate change -- in a do nothing scenario -- will have on the following sectors over the course of this century: Agriculture, Construction, Government, Recreation, Tourism, Ports, Airlines.