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Sun Block City: L.A. Braces for Its Next Urban Boogeyman

Sunset at Venice Beach
Photo by Peter Kiefer

Los Angeles has always been a dream destination for catastrophists. Since the 1950s, when a team of seismologists fully grasped the extent of the San Andreas Fault, seismically induced rubble or five-story tsunamis have been the favored villains in our unwritten scripts. Then came the 1990s, which offered up alternative and equally popular psychological boogeymen: Race riots, floods, fires, El Niño, and, of course, nuclear meltdowns elbowed their way into our consciousness. And now, because of the efforts of lame-duck Mayor Villaraigosa and the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, global warming will be creeping into our collective, dystopian consciousness. Brace yourselves.

In July, the first in a series of environmental studies about the Los Angeles region was released. The report, Mid-Century Warming in the Los Angeles Region, was commissioned by the city of Los Angeles and is being billed as the most comprehensive study of its kind — it is extraordinary for its granular detail. Using data derived from a series of complex global, atmospheric, and oceanic circulation models, the UCLA scientists downsized their focus to the Southern California region. The models analyze the impact of increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere resulting from either natural or human activities.

Typically, standard global models provide predictions for regions between 60 and 120 miles in width, whereas this new study for Los Angeles attempts to make predictions for areas as small as 1.2 miles across, allowing for an entirely new bumper-sticker coinage: “Think Globally, Fear Locally.”

Using the time period from 2041 to 2060 as its baseline, the report grimly concludes that coastal areas found west of the 405 are likely to warm an average of 3 to 4 degrees. Denser urban areas like downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys will warm an average of 4 degrees, and mountain and desert regions like Palm Springs and Lancaster will warm up as much as 4 to 5 degrees. The frequency with which we experience unpleasantly hot days will also most certainly spike. The number of days when the temperature will climb above 95 degrees will increase two to four times, depending on your zip code.

“Adaptation to a changing climate over the next few decades is likely to be inevitable in the Los Angeles region,” read the report.

Global warming is not a new phenomenon, nor is it, despite Los Angeles’ famed civic solipsism, particular to our city or state (disclosure to our readers: L.A. Currents holds the firm editorial position that human activities are contributing to climate change).

So what exactly does a 4-degree change portend for Los Angeles? According to a 2010 report by the National Research Council, every 1-degree increase can mean up to 10 percent less rainfall in some regions of the world with corresponding increases in others. A 1-degree increase can also result in 10 percent less stream flow in some river basins, as well as a 15 percent reduction in the corn crop in the U.S. and Africa and the wheat crop in India. Each additional degree could also bring up to a 400 percent increase in the area burned by wildfire in parts of the western United States.

The scientists plan to release another report about the effects of global warming on precipitation and sea level; this report will include information about coastal areas that are of obvious concern to Westsiders. The new study is expected to be released later this fall, so for now we can all go back to worrying about the San Andreas Fault. 


Century City




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