Flooding on Seacoast Drive during king tide
Flooding at the south end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach during a king tide. Photo by Chris Helmer / City of Imperial Beach

This past fall and winter, the world became familiar with photographs of ominous orange landscapes as smoke from wildfires blanketed much of the country. As spring is in full swing, and summer approaches, these months may likely be only a temporary reprieve from devastating fires.  A recent article published by the Washington Post warns of another long fire season for the Western United States as the region falls “deeper into drought.”

A lengthened fire season is only one example of the many impacts a warming planet has in California. Rising sea levels threaten coastal regions of the state, with accompanying mitigation plans costing billions of dollars. Furthermore, if temperatures continue to increase, greater biodiversity loss, a decrease in agricultural production, and diminished water supplies can be expected. 

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Focusing in on probable local challenges, the city of San Diego’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment outlines the main hazards the region will face. These include greater fire risks, sea level rise and accompanying hazards, changes in precipitation patterns, and greater frequency and intensity of heat waves. Like statewide estimates, local efforts to address and adapt to a changing climate will be costly.

So what are we to do? The challenge before us to confront what contributes to climate change may seem overwhelming, but there are practical measures we can take to minimize the resulting crises. Advocating for policies that respond to and prevent climate change-related challenges is timely and important.

It’s no secret that driving meaningful shifts in policy is a long and frustrating process, whether it’s due to opposition in government or lack of will, but it is an important tactic in the effort to prevent crises and adapt to an already changing climate. The time to apply pressure and advocate for policy that addresses climate change is now. San Diegans must engage local policy makers and push for continued prioritization of climate-related efforts. 

Doing so alone may prove exhausting, but getting involved with local climate action groups will offer structure and guidance in your effort. There are many organizations in San Diego responding to the crisis, like San Diego 350 and the Environmental Health Coalition, which are directly involved in policy advocacy. 

An important issue to consider when approaching climate policy is environmental and social justice. Underrepresented and marginalized communities are often disproportionately affected by practices that further the climate crisis and its effects, both at the global level and the local level. And San Diego is no exception. Low-income communities here are not represented sufficiently in policy development, and with less resources it is harder for them to influence policy.

There are greater concentrations of facilities emitting toxic air pollution and hazardous waste in low-income communities in San Diego County. The perpetuation of destructive industrial development not only contributes to global climatic change, but also contributes to marginalized communities disproportionately experiencing negative repercussions of such development. 

The science is clear. Human action has led to unprecedented global warming and we have a responsibility to address it. Otherwise, the climate change-derived challenges that California faces will continue, and likely worsen. It has been a slow and arduous process to get government officials to prioritize climate change, and as Californians we should be proud that our state stands out from the rest in the effort to advance climate policy.

However, we can’t settle. We can’t expect increased prioritization if we don’t pressure our representatives in government to make it so. Residents of San Diego, California, and the world, need to work with local organizations to advance efforts that curb human caused global warming. 

San Diegans can get involved with local climate-action groups in order to advocate for policies that protect the environment and citizens. Not everyone can devote their careers to climate action, or even most of their spare time, but for those who are compelled to do something, volunteering with San Diego environmental organizations is a great way to promote change at the local level and move us closer to living sustainably and justly.

Chad Baron is a graduate student from San Diego County studying Sustainable Development and Environmental Justice at the University of San Francisco. Professionally he has worked in education and nonprofits serving marginalized communities.