By Jeffrey Meyer
May 14, 2014 (San Diego) — Various community and industry leaders found common ground on the conflictive issue of climate change, at a University of San Diego symposium Tuesday, agreeing that it is important that we act now to avoid the worst affects of global warming.
Speaking at the day long event, sponsored by the San Diego World Affairs Council, local scientists, politicians and industry leaders agreed that the economic costs of not dealing with climate change will only increase over time.
Warning about extreme weather events, fires exacerbated by climate-related drought and rising sea levels around the world caused by global warming, keynote speaker Dr. Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said the world must reduce the burning of fossil fuels by 57 percent in order to stabilize carbon dioxide levels at 450 parts per million. He noted that we are already at dangerous levels with April readings of 401 ppm that will bring severe climate changes to the world.
U.S. Congressman Scott Peters told the group they cannot wait for gridlocked politicians in Washington D.C. to address climate change, explaining that state and local laws give San Diegans the power to mitigate expected damages from global warming. Noting the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 and the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, he urged symposium attendees to press state and local officials for compliance with those laws.
“The polarization in Congress over climate change has stopped any kind of legislation. It has become too politicized and committees that are supposed to work on this issue are stacked with shrill climate deniers who claim it is all a hoax,” he explained.
Although renewables were the focus in various panel discussions at the symposium, Chief Nuclear Scientist Robert Schleicher, General Atomics, explained that new technologies have made nuclear energy much safer. He noted recent advances by his company, as well as the new Bill Gates funded TerraPower reactor, that can make its own fuel inside the reactor core. He said the new technologies basically allow spent fuel to be converted into energy.
What is key to dealing with mitigating the worst impacts of climate change is getting other countries on board, according to former Ambassador Reno Harnish, Director of the Center for Environment and National Security, Scripps Institution of Oceanography University of San Diego. He noted the only way forward is to forge a diplomatic solution, first with China and secondly with India.
“Our biggest concern is political destabilization with flooding of low lying areas and other impacts brought by climate change. It increases the chance of conflict in many regions of the world,” Harnish said. “Extreme events will convince the American people to act now to mitigate damage from climate change.”
Closing keynote speaker, Rear Admiral Leendert “Len” Hering Sr. (U.S. Navy, retired), Executive Director of the California Center for Sustainable Energy, noted that San Diego is in the 12th year of a drought and faces a constant threat of fires because of dry conditions. Since it takes three years to recover from each year of drought, he added, it will be three decades before we recover. Hering is the founder of the largest sustainability business partnership in San Diego County, the San Diego Regional Sustainability Partnership, a consortium of business, government, academic and community organizations promoting practices that support a sustainable future for the region.
The San Diego World Affairs Council is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating and engaging San Diegans in global issues, international relations, and cultural understanding.