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Climate change: discussing the issue

Lauren Finkler, Editor
11:11 pm PDT September 6, 2016

For some longtime Malibuites, it may be a noticably smaller Broad Beach. For others, it may be visions of catastrophic El Niño events. And for many across the globe, it’s the jarring idea of Antarctica being bombarded by 200 feet of melted ice.

Whatever image springs to mind when one thinks of climate change, very few consider themselves part of the bigger picture. And that’s a philosophy that even the very scientists who are educated on the hot-button issue don’t quite know how to combat.

A large crowd gathered Tuesday, Aug. 30, in the Malibu Council Chambers to try to grasp the short-term and long-term impacts of global warming, with scientists Sarah Myhre, Jonathan Parfrey and Gary Griggs sitting on the two-hour long panel, moderated by scientist and filmmaker Randy Olsen. The series, titled “Malibu Climate Change: Hopes & Fears” was the sixth event in the Malibu Library Speaker Series.

“When things are a threat to life I think that it’s kind of remarkable that this hasn’t gotten the universal attention that it deserves,” Parfrey stated. 

Indeed, there was a lot of ground to cover in a mere 120 minutes, but the scientists did their best, providing a global, regional and local look at the issue at hand.

Malibu is one of several coastal cities that could be greatly impacted by sea level rise and other effects of climate change. Photos by Lauren Finkler/22nd Century Media

The local snapshot

Griggs offered the local Malibu outlook, pointing to the unsettling fact that Malibu is among many other major coast-side hubs that face one very real threat: sea level rise. 

Pointing to data from the last 375,000 years, Griggs spoke about pulses in sea level rise that fluctuate as much as 400 feet below the present day level. Scientists believe that this, said Griggs, is tied to when ice sheets collapsed. Then, about 8,000 years ago, sea level stabilized, allowing things like Pacific Coast Highway and various airports to be constructed with peace of mind.

“We built almost our entire civilization on sea level now,” Griggs said.

Now, however, sea level is crawling and rising at about 3.3 millimeters per year — which Griggs likened to the thickness of two quarters — or a little over a foot in 100 years. 

And while it may not seem like much, said Griggs, “if you live within a foot of sea level, that’s a lot.”

“The fear is and the projections are that that rate is going to increase,” Griggs said, “and that, in my view, may be the biggest problem human civilization has ever faced. 

“What do you do with the 150 million people on the planet that live within 3 feet of sea level?”

Plus, Griggs added, short-term events such as El Niño, severe storms, high tides and large waves are a very real threat, with another warm cycle expected to be approaching. 

Griggs further touched on the loss of sand along the Malibu coastline — a local threat that he credited to Point Dume blocking the flow of sand and causing it to fall off at canyons — which led the City to look to Ventura County for imported sand to replenish Broad Beach.

California and beyond

Meanwhile, other shortages may be just down the road, and not only in Malibu. 

“I think water availability may be the thing that hits us before anything else,” Griggs said. “ … There’s a whole series of things that affect our lives and health that we don’t think about; it’s not just it’s getting warmer and sea level is rising.”

Panel attendee John Stone, of Groveland, near Yosemite, has seen plenty of impact to the Sierra, where 66 million trees have fallen victim to a bark beetle invasion since October 2015. A pilot, Stone said the landscape that used to be green is now muddied with brown vegetation due to lack of water and increased heat that left the trees unable to produce sap and thus susceptible to the beetles.

“Is it worse because of global warming?” Stone posited. “Well, probably.”

Stone said the panel provided him with a lot of great information, but he still wants to learn the scope of the human impact on climate change.

“I’m just trying to learn the cycles because I’ve seen quite a few in my own lifetime, but this is the worst one,” he said.

Parfrey said that a 3-1/2 to 5 degree increase is expected by mid-century, even with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“In the long term it’s incredibly significant what we do, but in the near term those temperature increases are pretty much baked in,” he said.

Myhre, of Seattle, spoke of the impact in her area, pointing to the dramatic decline in snow accumulation at Mt. Baker Ski Area in Washington last year. 

“This is not just about numbers and economy; this is about our lifestyle,” Myhre said. “So we’re sitting at a precipice where the decisions that we make right now will shape the future of the planet for hundreds and thousands of years looking forward. It’s an incredible time to be alive and the quality of our international decision-making is really going to set that precedent.”

Myhre further added that she often hears that we should just look for another planet, but that’s “completely science fiction,” she said.

“There is no plan B and there is no planet B,” Myhre clarified. “This is where we need to take all of our energy and refocus it.”

Sarah Myhre speaks as fellow scientists and panelists Jonathan Parfrey (middle) and Gary Griggs look on during the Malibu Library Speaker Series, “Malibu Climate Change: Hopes & Fears,” held Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Malibu City Hall.

Climate change: discussing the solution

While climate change is no doubt a global issue, it’s one that scientists want each individual to take to heart. 

For those like scientist Sarah Myhre, that’s easy to do; all she has to do is look at her 2-year-old son and picture his future. 

And, with that in mind, Myhre said she has made a handful of lifestyle changes, including biking to work, taking mass transit, parking her car five days of the week, ordering groceries online and cutting meat from her diet.

“The thing is that I could check out and go into the bush and get some dreadlocks and not participate at all and reduce my greenhouse footprint ... but I think there’s a way of actually remaining in society and participating as a caring part of society who is trying to do the right thing and there comes with that some greenhouse gas footprint.”

Scientist Gary Griggs encouraged attendees to do one thing: vote.

However, he admits, even that is not foolproof, since climate change is happening slowly and there are other issues that politicians will likely aim to tackle during their term. 

For scientist Jonathan Parfrey, the changes he’d like to see put in motion centered on transportation.

“When it comes to climate change, the actors that are bringing this about is a mom taking her kids to school in the car, it’s turning on our lights, it’s flying to Dayton to visit your aunt and uncle because you miss them,” he said.

Parfrey pointed to actions undertaken by State Sen. Fran Pavley — who he referred to as “one of the great climate champions in the U.S. and the world — such as Assembly Bill 32, which dictates that California, by 2020, will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. Further, the bill put many other programs into motion, he added.

“The image of the solar panel or the wind turbine to fight climate change is not as applicable as the image of someone getting on their bicycle to go to work or the image of someone taking a bus or the train to go to work or driving an electric vehicle,” Parfrey said.

“I think I’ll try to drive a little less,” said attendee Gregor Patsch, of Ventura County, following the panel.