Santa Barbara has been the home of the World Business Academy for more than a decade, and as such, has been the hub of much of our project based work as we practice “think globally, act locally.” Over the past month, the global impacts of climate change have hit our local community harder and sooner than we ever could have imagined. Between the multi-year drought, the largest California wildfire on record, and the mudslides of Montecito that tragically took the lives of 21 residents, the communities of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Ojai have been a nexus for climate disruption. Upon surveying the destruction of the Thomas Fire, Governor Jerry Brown simply stated, “This is the new normal.” After the year that we have had, Brown’s statement is not a stretch of the imagination but is a reflection of our climate reality.
Despite the year of heavy rainfall in 2017, higher temperatures persist in the West. Lake levels in California are still at historic lows and climate change ever endangers the Northern California snowpack. Have you seen Lake Casitas lately? It’s currently at only 35 percent capacity and is on a slow course to dry up, which would mean the loss of local water resources vital to sustaining the Ojai Valley.
The Earth is getting hotter, and climate experts have been saying that extreme weather, from the floods in Texas to the hurricanes in the Caribbean and Florida, are a sign of this new normal. A drier West and a drier California will mean more frequent and intense wildfires, and this will be our new normal. It’s no longer a peek into our future, it is our present – it is our today and a prelude to what is to come.
“Wildfires need three ingredients: oxygen, fuel, and a heat source. Before wildfires blazed through the state in November, California was a natural disaster waiting to happen,” said a recent article in National Geographic Magazine, called Mudslides, Wildfires, and Drought – California’s Deadly Weather Explained. The article went on to say, “Along with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, there’s oxygen in our atmosphere. California’s ongoing drought parched its landscape, making the state tinder for potential fires. This fall, southern California boiled in extremely hot temperatures.”
Climate policy researcher Leah C. Stokes, an assistant professor of Political Science at UCSB, wrote similarly in the New York Times opinion section on Jan. 11, “There is a clear climate signature in the disaster in Santa Barbara. We know that climate change is making California’s extreme rainfall events more frequent. We know it’s worsening our fires. We know that it contributed substantially to the latest drought.”
She continued, “The costliest year for natural disasters in the United States was 2017. One of the longest and most severe droughts in California history concluded for most parts of the state in 2017. The five warmest years on record have all occurred since 2006, with 2017 expected to be one of the warmest yet again … I have researched climate change policy for over a decade now. For a long time, we assumed that climate policy was stalled because it was a problem for the future. Or it would affect other people. Poorer people. Animals. Ecosystems. We assumed those parts of the world were separate from us. That we were somehow insulated. I didn’t expect to see it in my own backyard so soon. Climate change devastated ecosystems, species and neighborhoods in Houston and much of struggling Puerto Rico last year. Now climate change has ravaged one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country. We know now that even the richest among us is not insulated.”
Today, as we face the rebuilding of Montecito and Ventura, we are reminded that nature is powerful and indiscriminate. While California will have to face the continued impacts of climate change, resigning ourselves to the acceptance of this “new normal” should not be the norm, as we have the means to make meaningful progress and combat climate change if we come together as people, community, government, and business. We must collectively take responsibility for the protection environment and communities. If the government and political system can’t, or won’t, take responsible steps to safeguard people from drought, floods, mudslides, water shortages and fires, then residents and businesses have to.
Between the Thomas Fire and the fatal mudslide in Montecito that followed, the entire region from Santa Barbara to Ventura has reached a tipping point where we as a community have to decide how we are going to live and protect human life as well as our local environment in the era of climate change. We have to keep up the discussion about finding reliable solutions to challenges involving reliable energy and water, among other issues. Join us! A key function of the World Business Academy is to unite the business community and others with influence to use their power for the good of our environment. We have been committed for years to the position that we can, and must, build a new level of sustainability and resilience in our community. We need your support and participation!
One of the Academy’s many projects is SBR3, which seeks to develop a reliable, resilient, and 100% renewable microgrid in the Santa Barbara region. During the Thomas Fire and the aftermath of the Montecito mudslides, thousands of people were left without power, for days in some cases, due to the damages to our electrical grid system. Our community’s reliance on Southern California Edison’s outdated and vulnerable grid leaves us open to instability during extreme weather events. The Academy firmly believes going off the traditional grid system and switching to a renewable micro-grid would be a better solution for Santa Barbara and Montecito moving forward. As we have experienced recently, Southern Santa Barbara County is at risk for extended blackouts because of our antiquated energy system, especially when a disaster strikes. We will continue to advocate for the development of “SBR3” – Santa Barbara Reliable, Resilient, and 100% Renewable – a microgrid that can operate even in cases of emergency to keep the lights on when and where we need it most because we know that the Santa Barbara area hasn’t seen its last wildfire or mudslide. Please join us in rebuilding our community and mobilizing change towards a cleaner energy future.