San Diego skyline

San Diego has a well-deserved reputation for its consistently “Goldilocks” weather: It’s often just right, seldom too cold or too hot. Rainstorms come in quickly but rarely linger.

The typical forecast when it’s not sunny all day? Overcast until 11 am, followed by sunshine in the afternoon.

But that doesn’t mean climate change isn’t already underway in San Diego and throughout the southwest corner of the continental United States. By mid-century, rainfall is expected to become less frequent but more intense; droughts are expected to worsen; rising seas will bring more coastal flooding; wildfires could become even more frequent and more extreme; and heat waves are projected to be longer and, at least at the coast, more humid.

Reviewing five years of effort in San Diego

Back in 2012, a group of researchers secured funding from the National Science Foundation to create Climate Education Partners, or CEP. The goal of the effort is to raise awareness among regional leaders about climate change in the San Diego area and educate them about the science behind it. The idea was that local politicians, business leaders, and others would be empowered to drive efforts to cut regional greenhouse gas emissions, and build a region more resilient to the consequences of continued climate change.

Since 2012, CEP has held seminars and tours, produced numerous reports and briefs, and surveyed the region’s attitudes on climate change – all to inform regional leaders about coming changes as the global climate continues to warm.

The NSF grant is now in its last year, with funding running out in August 2018. But CEP has found a home at an institute at the University of San Diego that focuses on providing guidance to non-profit organizations. The project’s leaders are now working with the university’s Non-Profit Institute to mesh its climate change work into the institute’s work and find new sources of funding, says Christiana DeBenedict, CEP’s assistant director.

Other similar efforts underway across U.S.

CEP is one of six NSF-funded climate change education initiatives around the country. Others included in the Climate Change Education Partnership Alliance are:

  • Climate & Urban Systems Partnership, or CUSP, encompassing Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York City, and Washington, DC.;
  • Maryland and Delaware Climate Change Education, Assessment and Research (MADE-CLEAR);
  • National Network for Ocean & Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI);
  • Pacific Islands Climate Change Education Partnership (PCEP); and
  • Polar Learning and Responding Climate Change Education Partnership (PoLAR CCEP).
  • In San Diego, CEP has become a clearinghouse for information about climate change, its causes, and projected impacts throughout the region. The group also has conducted tours that profile local climate impacts, organized roundtable discussions, and used social media to raise awareness about regional impacts.

    It recently launched the “Your Community Toolbox for Leading in a Changing Climate” website as a resource for other cities considering the local climate impacts in their own planning efforts.

    The San Diego group’s efforts have focused on business, government, transportation, Native American tribal groups, public health, and the Latino community.

    Its activities include conducting interviews with leaders in each sector to learn about their knowledge of climate change, their values, and their sense of community. CEP also has conducted regional public opinion polls on climate change and focus groups with regional leaders.

    Like other metropolitan regions in California, the San Diego region is mandated by the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time. So regional growth and transportation plans include evaluations of how various initiatives and policies are designed to reduce GHGs. Creating more compact communities, with mixed-use and multi-family housing, and expanding public transportation options is central to its view of how best to reduce regional GHG emissions.

    Concerns over lost quality of life

    Among the region’s 3.5 million residents, meanwhile, awareness about climate change is high, and so too is concern about how it could affect San Diego’s future. A public opinion poll released this fall showed that 87 percent of San Diegans say they believe climate change is happening – up three percentage points from 2015 – and that 64 percent say that climate change “is caused mostly by human activities.” Seven out of 10 San Diego Latinos say humans are the cause. Fifty-two percent of San Diegans overall say climate change will cause them at least “moderate” harm.

    That sentiment is shared by political and institutional leaders in the San Diego region, says Mica Estrada, director of CEP and an assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

    “Overall, the greatest concern is that the quality of life that we now enjoy will be lost … (and) that the disruptions to the climate will greatly and negatively impact the next generation,” Estrada says.

    Continuing efforts planned

    The City of San Diego, home to about 1.4 million people, says it intends to continue to aggressively cut emissions. Its Climate Action Plan calls for eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 2035. It says the city can do so partly by moving entirely to renewable sources of energy for electricity within the next 17 years.

    In its “San Diego, 2050 Is Calling” report, CEP reviews challenges that climate change will bring to the region, and also the benefits of preserving wetlands as buffers to rising seas, and the overall value of open space.

    The group also has produced presentations on how businesses can become more resilient to climate change; the challenges likely to confront vulnerable populations such as the very young, very old, poor, and chronically ill; and briefs on water, health, and other subjects.

    Estrada says she and other researchers are particularly concerned about the challenges that vulnerable populations will face as the global climate continues to warm – more air pollution, extreme heat, and wildfires. The brief on vulnerable populations includes a series of maps that detail how vulnerable populations will be harmed by future heat waves. The maps were created through collaboration involving CEP, the Texas School of Public Health, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

    One of a number of challenges to be addressed going forward: Estrada points to a recent survey of non-profit leaders serving vulnerable populations; the survey finds among those organizations a low level of awareness about impacts of climate change.

    “Only 44 percent of leaders said their organization was moderately to very concerned about climate change” – a finding she says underscores the need for more educational outreach to non-profit groups. With its new affiliation with the University of San Diego’s Nonprofit Institute, CEP hopes to keep working on those efforts.

    With the end of its five-year NSF grant in sight, Estrada says CEP plans to continue its work, with an early priority involving raising funds to do so.

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