Zimmerman: What the findings of the U.N. climate report mean for San Jose
An aerial view of downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released last month. Since its release, the report has been lauded and derided, but its significance cannot be dismissed.

The intergovernmental panel is not a political body and the report is not a political document. Rather, it is an amalgamation of the past eight years of peer-reviewed scientific studies put together by 234 authors from 66 countries to produce “the most detailed assessment of climate science ever undertaken.”

The report provides a comprehensive look at what climate change will mean for the world, and for you. The climate has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), which is the hottest earth has been in 100,000 years. Humans are the cause of this temperature rise, which is mostly driven by our burning of fossil fuels. What follows isn’t a summary of what could happen, this is what will happen.

It is going to get hotter

I have read the comprehensive policymakers’ summary of the report and combined it with resources on local impacts to give you an idea of what it means for you. You are going to have to start staying inside during the summer because it will be too hot to go outside. July was the hottest month on record, and as temperatures continue to rise you are going to have to prepare for “increased heat waves, longer warm season and shorter cold seasons.” If you are a caretaker to an elderly individual or a child, or work outside in construction or farming, the increase in temperatures could be life-threatening.

If you are a gardener, you are going to have to change what you plant, how and when. You might have to pollinate your own plants as pollinators such as bees and humming birds fall out of sync with the changing, growing seasons.

If you are a homeowner, you are going to have a choice between your lawn and your water bill. Unless stricter drought restrictions make that choice moot. Why? Because it is going to be much, much dryer. California in general is equal only to the Mediterranean in terms of expected drought impact. Your water bill is going to increase, as utilities are forced to purchase more expensive sources or upgrade water treatment options. There may be days where you turn on the tap and nothing comes out.

In the face of drought, there will also be more flooding.

You can expect to see flooding from two sources. First will be sea level rise. The sea level has already risen by 8 inches since 1900 and it is expected to rise an additional 1.2 feet in the next 20 years. The other source will be from precipitation events. The precipitation we do get is likely to be concentrated and intense.

If you live in a flood plain, your new normal will be preparing for floods and cleaning up after they have gone. Remember the Coyote Creek flood in 2017? Something similar is likely to happen again. There is up to a 68% chance that there will be a three-foot flood in the next eight years. A flood of this size in San Jose will inundate 1,700 homes, one school and 13 hazardous waste sites, impacting property worth about $2.1 billion dollars. The likelihood of such a flood goes up to 100% by 2050.

More fires, more often

The past two years have seen catastrophic forest fires in California. We can expect more forest fires according to the report, and they will be worse.

Fire season will also get longer. Fourth of July fireworks will be a thing of the past. The pollution from wildfires, in addition to creating spectacular sunsets, will negatively impact your health—particularly if you have asthma or a similar condition. Wildfires have accounted for up to 25% of PM 2.5 (pollution) in recent years across the United States, and up to half in some Western regions.

In summary, “This report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying, unprecedented in thousands of years.”

This information is not intended to scare, but to inform. I encourage to you read the full report for policymakers which can be found here. Use the information to plan for the future and guide your interactions with local and state leaders.

It is still up to us how we respond to climate change and what shape that response will take. The report makes it clear that changes are coming, but we can determine if these changes will be equitable and well-planned, or exploitative and ad hoc.

San José Spotlight columnist Erin Zimmerman is a climate reality leader with the Climate Reality Project’s Silicon Valley Chapter. Erin, a long-time environmental and political activist, holds a PhD in political science. Her column appears every third Wednesday of the month. Contact Erin at [email protected].

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