Opinion: San Diego’s Unique Perspective on The Climate Change Debate

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Scientists board a small research boat underneath Scripps Pier in La Jolla. Courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography

By Chris Jennewein

Amid record day and night heat, an unusually warm ocean and raging wildfires, it’s important to acknowledge San Diego’s unique perspective — and responsibility — in the climate debate.

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San Diego in general, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in particular, have been central to the science that established the basic facts behind climate change.

First, there was the Keeling Curve, the long-term record of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This has been measured daily atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano since 1958, and the steady upward trend is incontrovertible.

Then there are the sea temperature readings taken at Scripps Pier for over a century and now in addition by high-tech robotic ocean gliders. Sea temperatures are clearly rising globally.

Finally, there is the increasing frequency and lethality of wildfires, which regularly advance into the city limits of America’s 8th largest municipality. Unlike many Americans, San Diegans have first-hand experience with the smoke, ash, evacuations and destruction of a raging wildfire.

Thus San Diego has a unique perspective on climate change. We’re familiar with the scientists who measure and explain it, and have personal experience with its effects.

For this reason, it’s hard to find influential San Diegans who believe, as unfortunately many in Washington now do, that global warming is some kind of hoax or conspiracy.

It’s hard for us in San Diego to dismiss the Keeling Curve, ocean temperatures or wildfires as an elaborate, “deep state” conspiracy, as Fox News might characterize it. For us it’s real. Too real.

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That’s why our Republican mayor has been focused on environmental issues, including the city’s ambitious Climate Action Plan.

“It’s been less than two years since we passed a landmark Climate Action Plan that won accolades from around the globe,” said Mayor Kevin Faulconer last October. “Now the results are starting to roll in and we’re seeing significant progress in our push to slash greenhouse gas emissions.”

“We continue to be ahead of schedule on our ambitious goals which means the actions we’re taking are making a difference — and that San Diegans are doing their part to leave a cleaner and more sustainable city than the one we inherited.”

When famed oceanographer Walter Munk turned 100 last year, the boardwalk along La Jolla Shores beach was named after him.

“It’s going to take a miracle to prevent it from being flooded when it reaches the same age,” he noted sadly.

San Diego, with its first-hand experience and scientific prowess, can influence the national debate and help achieve that miracle.


Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.

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