You don’t even have to pull out one of your favorite climate change books to know how global warming is impacting our world. The effects of climate change are reported about in our news, shared on social media, and talked about in movies and on the radio. In the US, California seems to be where climate change is most experienced, with even local environmental issues in California being heard about far and wide. Let’s virtually transport ourselves to the state, to see how our changing climate is having an impact.
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Cities around the world are experiencing climate impacts at increasingly frequent rates. We might hear about those like San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Francisco more commonly because, there, the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are leading to climate change impacts that influence all aspects of life. We’ll take a deep dive into how climate change is taking a toll for Californians and what we can all do to help (like learn how to start composting, for example!).
What are the current environmental issues in California?
California is experiencing many environmental issues. From Northern California to the tip of Southern California, current climate impacts include rising sea levels, smog, power disruptions, wildfires, drought, air and water pollution, and extreme weather and heat—all impacting health and well-being.
Let’s take a deeper look at ten of the most significant impacts climate change is having on California and its environment.
Top 10 environmental problems in California
Whether you’re in Sacramento, California or across the world in Saint-Paul, France, our warming climate is causing changes around the globe. Near and dear to many of us, California is being pummeled by climate related crises. From sea level rise and flooding, to hotter, drier weather, here’s how climate change is impacting the state—from the Klamath National Forest down to the Mexican border.
1. Rampant wildfires
If you hear of environmental issues in California from elsewhere in the world, you likely hear news about the wildfires that consume the state’s land. Nine of the ten largest wildfires in the state have occurred in the last five years. As the fires destroy everything in their path, they release emissions and contribute to air pollution—having not just an impact on ecosystems and wildlife, but citizens of the Golden State as well.
The Tamarack Fire alone, which tore through Alpine County in 2021, led to an evacuation of hundreds of people as it burned more than 67,000 acres and 15 structures. Damage claims topping more than $85 million have been filed. Since 2022’s largest fire—The McKinney Fire—has already burned an area larger than the San Francisco Bay region, we could expect even more damage for those in the Golden State.
2. Longer periods of drought
Drought is an environmental challenge that researchers have long predicted will get worse in the years to come. It’s one of the main contributing factors to California’s worsening wildfires. When everything is dry as a result of drought, it turns forests and vegetation into fuel for wildfires, providing the conditions for them to be more frequent, bigger, and more unpredictable.
2021 was reported as the third driest year for the Golden State. Recording less snowpack, the state had 50% lower precipitation levels than average. This not only compromises water supply and life as Californians know it, but also takes a toll on the state’s agriculture—which is a risk for Americans, as well as those abroad who rely on California-grown produce.
3. Record-breaking heat
Climate change impacts are unrelentless in California—bringing with them higher temperatures. In 2020, exceedingly hot temperatures were a huge wake-up call for California. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, summer brought record-breaking extreme heat. In just a few weeks, California experienced all-time temperature highs—so much so, that lifelong Californians were shocked by the unprecedented heat.
Higher temperatures aren’t just a thing of the past, and they’re not even limited to summer. More recently, spring of 2022 welcomed record hot temperatures when the San Francisco area reached 89°F, toppling the 1926 record. 2008 records were broken in Southern California, too. At the time of writing this article—August 2022—Sacramento reported not just warmer weather, but a tied record high of 106°F.
4. More smog than ever before
Extreme heat, drought, and high levels of emissions are a deadly trifecta when it comes to California experiencing more smog. Greenhouse gases produce warmer weather and drought, which in turn leads to dangerous wildfires that release more smog into the air. Smog comes about in a few other ways, too: released as tailpipe emissions from cars, coal power plants, and factories—which California has a lot of.
High temperatures trap smog, which can significantly compromise the quality of air in a region. Southern California especially has been deemed as having some of the worst air quality in the country. San Diego and LA have notoriously poor air pollution, too.
5. Worst ozone pollution
Smog is a combination of particulate matter and ground level ozone—which is another thing California is well-known for. In 2022, LA reported its worst ozone pollution levels since 2010, and many other Californian cities—including San Francisco and San Jose—aren’t far behind. In fact, 11 of the top 25 ozone polluted American cities are in California.
Essentially synonymous with smog, the worst ozone pollution is being experienced because of California being the location of many power plants, chemical plants, and other industries that burn fossil fuels. Transportation, too, is a huge source of ozone emissions. LA traffic isn’t just a notorious timewaster; all those idling cars are releasing dangerous ground-level ozone emissions, too.
6. Health problems
Environmental issues in California aren’t just taking a toll on our planet, they’re a huge source of health problems, too. Air pollution, in particular, is one of the most pressing environmental health issues in California. Whether it’s through smoke inhalation during wildfires or compromised air that impacts daily life, pollution has become a public health concern for the California Department of Public Health.
While the California legislature has taken steps to reduce emissions and try to improve air quality, they encourage everyday citizens to take steps to protect their own health. To prevent asthma attacks, lost workdays, and premature deaths, urgent actions are needed—like completely doing away with greenhouse gases coming from the electricity generation and transportation sectors.
7. Power grid stressors
Higher temperatures, wildfires, and natural gas fuel disruptions are also threatening electricity supplies. The rolling blackouts of 2022 were the first in nearly 20 years, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2022, late summer temperatures reaching 109°F in California’s Central Valley are expected to produce more shocks to the power grid—which would mean no electricity to power the Lomi!
While public policy and poor planning are partly to blame, the increased need for electricity to deal with extreme summer temperatures is the main culprit. When people need to escape the extreme heat (oftentimes accompanied by poor air quality, smog, and smoke), they turn to air conditioning and air filters. While those living on the West Coast already experience some of the worst air quality in the world, we can only expect electricity demands to increase—as air pollution and extreme heat aren’t going away anytime soon.
8. Increasingly contaminated water
The effects of climate change impact every sip of water, too. California’s water quality has come under scrutiny in recent years, as it’s been reported that around one million of the state’s residents have contaminated drinking water. The contaminated water includes more than 100 potential toxins, including E. coli, arsenic, and nitrates from agriculture.
Of the thousands of water storage facilities in California, around 5% of them reported at least one contaminant, meaning not just dangerous drinking water, but also water that shouldn’t be used to cook or bathe with. Worse, households with poor water quality are at increased risk of consuming contaminated water that might lead to kidney and liver harm, respiratory problems for infants, and even higher cancer risk.
9. Rising sea level
Even as water resources are increasingly dwindling due to drought or contamination, too much water is also an impact of climate change the Golden State must contend with. Sea level rise puts a lot of California’s coastal communities at risk. Even small increases in sea levels can have detrimental consequences due to coastal flooding, eroded shorelines, groundwater contamination, and inundated wetlands and dry land.
Scientists estimate that sea level could be as much as half a foot higher by 2030 and up to seven feet by the end of the century. While half a foot may not seem like that much of a change, sea level rise to even that magnitude will have far reaching impacts on private property, natural resources, public infrastructure, safe drinking water, agriculture, and economic disruption.
10. Compromised agricultural production
Even if Sacramento’s so far away it could be Saturn and you care less about California history than the maggots infiltrating your compost bins, the environmental issues the state is currently facing are likely to impact you, too. Climate change impacts in California’s Central Valley likely play a role in tonight’s dinner.
Central Valley is home to one of America’s most important agricultural centers. The region produces more than 400 commodities, including 250 crops—or one-quarter of the nation’s food. Like elsewhere in the state, the area finds itself extremely vulnerable to risks associated with drought, extreme weather and heat, compromised water supply, wildfires, water pollution, air pollution, and other impacts of global warming. If we don’t all do something to protect this region, our next meal might suffer.
Fight back against California environmental issues: 9 ways to make a difference
Urgent actions are needed by all of us to support our environment and protect our health and well-being. While this article only looked at how climate change is impacting California, life as we know it—regardless of where we are—will change because of global warming. Fortunately, there are ways we can protect our planet and ourselves.
- Make the switch to clean energy: If you can, ditch fossil fuels by using clean energy (solar power, wind power, hydropower) for your energy needs.
- Use greener ways to get around: Gas-fueled transportation doesn’t just require fossil fuels, it also contributes to air pollution. Instead of driving, hop on a bike, use buses or trains, or walk.
- Rid your life of toxic chemicals: Chemicals found in most consumer products are bad for health, and they can also end up contaminating air, soil, and drinking water. Look for natural, organic, or non-toxic products instead.
- Reduce your food waste footprint by composting: If the idea of having an outdoor compost pile doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can still divert food scraps from landfills and turn them into nutrient-rich dirt by using an electric composter instead.
- Make your voice heard: While individual actions are needed to curb climate change, public policy is, too. Be sure to spread climate-related news with friends and family and vote for politicians who put our planet first
- Spend more time outside: You’ll be far more inclined to protect our planet after you get to know it! Frequent your local parks, spend time in the forest, and plan more outdoor activities.
- Start a garden: As another way to boost your environmental commitment, turn your backyard into a flower or vegetable garden. Natives are better suited to your local environment and are more resilient to climate change, so choose those over nonnative species.
- Go plastic-free: Plastic pollution is an environmental challenge that’s impacting our entire world. Avoid using the material as much as possible by using reusable products instead.
- Stay informed about environmental issues: In addition to understanding some of the current environmental issues in California, be sure to know what’s happening in your area so that you can know what to do about them.
Environmental issues in Southern California may seem like a world away, but those same impacts of climate change may be happening locally for you, too. What’s an environmental challenge somewhere is likely experienced elsewhere—meaning that we all have a role to play in supporting our planet and our future living on it.
The thousands of happy Lomi customers know this, which is why they’re taking action by turning their kitchen scraps into natural fertilizer. Consider joining them. Together, we can tackle the environmental issues in Northern California, and everywhere else on this planet.
Written by: Heather Seely