Warming Up: LA Style

DEEGAN ON LA-“Seventy-seven and sunny” is a good description of our typical Los Angeles Mediterranean-type climate, where we don’t really experience the elements of rain, snow, winds, thunderstorms and other atmospheric disturbances like most of the world.

Here, we have a better chance of seeing a movie star on a sidewalk than a cloud in the always blue sky. 

Our climate, along with a laid-back lifestyle, is one of our biggest draws, and it could be a contributing reason why over four million people call LA home. Our known weather extremes include the moist “marine layer” that comes onshore from the Pacific bringing cooling, damp air in the evening but that clears out by late morning to make way for yet another sun-filled afternoon. We also have the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that seep into LA from the vast deserts to the east, bringing intense, fire-danger winds. 

This is what “weather” is: Atmospheric conditions that can vary hour to hour and day-to-day in most places. Mark Twain, speaking about the weather, once said, If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” 

Climate (and climate change) is composed of weather. The Brits have a good way to describe what is climate, when it is not weather. They use a timescale as the determining factor, where weather describes atmospheric conditions on a short term basis, and climate identifies the average of those atmospheric conditions over years to decades. 

Next, we come to using the building blocks of weather into what’s bothering so many people that wrongly call it “global warming” when it’s really an incremental element of global warming called “climate change.” 

The climate change phenomenon, says the Met Weather Office, refers to “systematic, large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather patterns and average temperatures.” We notice these climate changes that come from natural factors like volcanoes that pollute the sky with particles, or man-made pollution from automobiles and other fossil fuel off-gasses. 

This pollution eventually has a serious impact; it is what causes the fact of “global warming.” While we have no control over volcanoes, we can definitely control carbon emissions and other synthetic chemicals that man releases into the atmosphere that's already full of natural greenhouse gasses (GHGs) like water vapor, ozone, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. 

Where on the global scale does Los Angeles fit into the climate change and global warming argument? Locally, UCLA, a campus of the University of California (one of the nation’s greatest university research systems) houses the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. It has studied climate change in Los Angeles and has given us a preview of what to expect in its UCLA-IOES Climate Study if we don’t stop contributing to atmospheric destruction by insisting on living on a fossil-fuel platform. 

There are some good alternatives, such as solar power, wind energy, and electric cars which are the three most common and accessible forms of energy that do not rely on smokestacks or tailpipes that pollute the air and add to the emerging global warming crisis. 

What UCLA’s Institute of Environmental Studies offers is a two-level look at mid-century and end-of-century in the Los Angeles region, viewed through what they call “business as usual” and “mitigation.” 

They say that If we do nothing, and stick to business as usual, we can expect mid-century temperatures to rise by 4.3°F, compared with a reference period of 1981–2000. This warming will not be uniform; the coastal areas will not suffer as much as the valleys and interiors of the region. With mitigation, the projected temperature changes are 70% of those in the business as usual scenario, or 3.01 degrees. 

That’s the short-term impact. At the end of the century, the time when our grandchildren will be leaving a changed world to their own children, the impacts are much starker. UCLA projects that temperatures will have leveled off to 3°F warmer than in 1981–2000 under a mitigation scenario but will be 8.2°F warmer than they were in 1981–2000 without mitigation. This could bring temperatures of over 103 degrees to Los Angeles on a regular basis. 

Skiing and snowboarding, which are popular winter sports for people living in LA to easily access, will be hit hard. The warmer temperatures will turn winter precipitation into rain instead of snow. 

Global warming--the dreaded villain to life as usual--is an overall, long-term warming of the planet. While the Industrial Revolution in 1870 created a new way of living through industrialization, it also marked the birth of fossil fuel emissions through coal-burning factory smokestacks. Around the same time, oil was discovered near Titusville, Pennsylvania on August 27, 1859, when George Bissell and Edwin L. Drake experienced their first gusher. Oil can be said to have lubricated industry on a grand scale, and eventually its byproduct, gasoline, became a premium consumer product for anyone with a car. 

Knowing that weather creates climate, and climate change leads to global warming, is it any wonder that the generations that we will be leaving behind, who must deal with the future, are feeling an imperative to rapidly transition to a greener, cleaner economy and are starting to talk about programs like the Green New Deal? Given a choice between “business as usual” and “mitigation,” they are electing to go with “mitigation.”


(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.