Darcie Goodman Collins: Climate science must guide policy to protect Lake Tahoe
Congressman Tom McClintock’s column “On climate change — the sky is not falling” was a dangerous dismissal of climate science and failed to share the importance of the work to make Lake Tahoe more resilient.
His op-ed began with a story about Abraham Lincoln witnessing the largest meteor shower in history. Ironically, Lincoln was unfazed due to his knowledge and belief in science. He was a man of science, who helped to found the National Academy of Sciences. Today that very same Academy produces invaluable climate change handouts for policy-makers like McClintock.
According to the Academy, climate change is “a defining issue of our time” and “human activities … have increased the atmospheric CO2 concentrations by about 40%, with more than half the increase occurring since 1970.” The amount of warming we experience is directly related to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted as a result of human activities.
McClintock’s misunderstanding is apparent when he says that we have had temperatures hotter or colder than they are today. These periods were either miserable for humankind or before homo sapiens arrived on Earth. This latest warming trend is faster than any in the fossil record and is human caused. Our activities burning coal, oil, and natural gas have and are disrupting our once stable climate.
Further errors such as suggesting we “build more reservoirs” to make up for a declining snowpack and “save that water rather than lose it to the ocean” underestimate the benefits of healthy ecosystems and the scale of storage capacity that would be needed to replace our snowpack.
Saying that “there is a vigorous debate within the scientific community over how much human activity influences climate,” is a dangerous misrepresentation that could encourage inaction and put our Lake at risk.
When it comes to Tahoe, the time to act on climate change is now.
Communities like ours depend on tourism and on a beautiful Lake. According to California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, loss of skier-days from drought and reduced snowpack will impact service jobs, while wildfires and insect outbreaks will reduce property values and tourism expenditures.
There is a profound difference between panicking and saying the “sky is falling,” and using the best-available climate science to take action to protect Lake Tahoe.
Right now, the League to Save Lake Tahoe is working to restore natural protections for the Lake like meadows and marshes that can filter out pollution, prevent flooding and reduce the risk of fire. Simultaneously, we are lobbying for restoration funds, leading hands-on restoration projects, training citizen-scientists to spot and report aquatic invasive plants, and working to address other threats to the Lake’s clarity.
The League is working to protect our way of life and our Lake in the face of threats like climate change. Regardless of whether Congressman McClintock believes in climate change or not (more than 97 percent of the scientific community and the majority of the American public do), we encourage him to work with us to Keep Tahoe Blue.
Darcie Goodman Collins, Ph.D., is CEO of the League to Save Lake Tahoe.