Guest column: Lake Tahoe is changing due to climate change; we must act now (opinion)
We are already seeing the impacts of human-made climate change at Lake Tahoe.
Increased wildfire risk, rising temperatures, and reduced snowpack combined with volatile swings in extreme weather patterns. The debate about climate change is over — our lake is getting warmer and humans are the cause. Centuries of burning fossil fuels and exploding population growth have us staring into the face of a climate crisis.
According to California’s Fourth Climate Assessment, “by the end of the 21st century temperatures in the Sierra Nevada are projected to warm by 6 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit.” In a town that is reliant on winters and snow, this is devastating.
The report goes on to say that by 2100, we will no longer get snow below 6,000 feet in elevation. Lake Tahoe sits at 6,223 feet. The previous few years are a sign of future weather conditions. We will see more extreme swings from record drought to record precipitation.
The impacts of human-made climate change are going to be wide ranging on Tahoe. We will soon be receiving more rain than snow, experience more extreme periods of drought, have less snowpack at higher elevations, suffer more deadly wildfires, and see the loss of native plants and animals. The health of Lake Tahoe is the health of our economy and community.
This needs repeating: Lake Tahoe is currently changing, and will continue to change, period. Even under the most optimistic climate futures (globally, we would need to stop emitting carbon dioxide immediately) we will see changes to our lake, forests and seasons. Lake Tahoe in the year 2100 will look very different than it does today.
While this future may seem bleak, there is hope! There are many partners across the Tahoe region and beyond that are working to address climate change and prepare for future impacts. Led by the TRPA and created in 2014, the Lake Tahoe Sustainable Communities Program outlines the actions needed for the region to become climate resilient.
In 2017, the city of South Lake Tahoe was the 26th city in the country to pledge to go 100% renewable electricity by 2023. Finally, the California Tahoe Conservancy is developing a climate vulnerability assessment and climate adaptation plan that will help guide our actions moving forward.
While our progress to date is encouraging, we need bold action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for a future under climate change. Lake Tahoe can be a global leader and act boldly in the face of climate change.
The city of South Lake Tahoe is already committed to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. We must, and will, do more to ensure the best possible future for the place we all love.
Last year the United Nations warned that if nations across the globe don’t begin to significantly reduce emissions now, we will see irreversible changes to our planet as early as 2050. That is 31 years away, well within the lifespan of most people reading this right now.
Our community can rise to face this generational challenge, but we must start now. We must eliminate our emissions and contribution to climate change. Tahoe must become carbon neutral. This starts at home with personal actions. Ride your bike instead of driving, consider a plant-based diet or other ways to support local agriculture, and reduce your home energy usage. Every small action helps.
We must also plan for the changes that we know are coming. How will we prepare for the impacts mentioned above? Now is the time to be asking those questions and trying to find solutions that preserve our lake and community.
Devin Middlebrook is the sustainability program coordinator for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and is an elected member of the city of South Lake Tahoe City Council.
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This community has seen more change in the past five years than a previous couple of decades, with more to come.