Climate Change in the Central Valley

Apr 15, 2017 | 2017 Articles, Going Green

by Don H. Gaede

This is one of many Earth Day related articles up in this issue! You can check out all of our going green articles here.

We residents of the Central Valley enjoy a pretty nice climate. Granted, our summers can get pretty hot, but as Bill McEwen of the Fresno Bee puts it, “It’s a dry heat.”

But whether you call our heat dry, parched, or toasty, our climate could be getting significantly hotter in the coming decades. The atmospheric blanket around our planet, perfectly sized to keep our planet at a livable temperature, is thickening rapidly. Scientists at NASA and many other major scientific bodies say this is due to a buildup of carbon dioxide. And it’s primarily caused by human activity.

Since the industrial revolution, our civilization has grown and thrived on energy derived from fossil fuels. While these fuels are wonderfully convenient, every time they are burned, they inject carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. As a consequence, about 40% of the CO2 in our current atmosphere is “new” CO2 stemming from the burning of fossil fuels. In fact, the last time our atmosphere’s CO2 concentration was this high, humans didn’t exist. Back then, sea levels were 100 feet higher, and the average land temperature was eleven degrees warmer.

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Don H. Gaede

Some people may object and say, “Yes, of course our climate is changing–it’s always been changing!” That’s true—recall the ice age 20,000 years ago that carved out the last sections of Yosemite Valley. But now, due mainly to human activity, the climate is changing much faster; scientists say our climate is changing 170 times faster than it ever did before. With this rapid change, we humans and the plants and animals we rely on may have great difficulty coping.

In our Central Valley, higher temperatures from climate change will cause more uncomfortable and unhealthy summers, especially for our outdoor workers. Scientists estimate that by the middle of this century, if nothing changes, our Valley will have eight times as many extremely hot summer days as we do now. Since hot air and sunlight convert more vehicle exhaust products into ozone, ozone concentrations will rise. This will harm asthmatic children and adults with COPD or heart disease.

The good news is that we can do something about this. We still have time to keep our climate and our children healthy. We will need to gradually transition our energy sources from oil, gas, and coal to clean energy sources, like solar power, wind power, and possibly even some nuclear power.

Fortunately, this is already happening. Solar energy is now as cheap as energy from gas and oil. Wind energy is growing rapidly. Hybrid and electric cars are becoming commonplace. Nighttime storage of energy has been a drawback of renewable energy, but now battery and other energy storage technology is beginning to solve that problem.

To encourage a more rapid transition to clean energy, we need to give it an economic “boost.” We can do this by putting a fee on fossil fuels, and refunding all the revenue to each American household. This is called “carbon fee and dividend” (or “carbon tax and dividend”). It is the solution proposed by many economists and experts on both sides of the political aisle, including President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz and George W. Bush’s economic advisor Greg Mankiw.

Multiple independent studies, including one by the Congressional Budget Office, show that returning all the revenue from a carbon tax and dividend leaves a majority of households with more money in their pockets. Wouldn’t you—wouldn’t anyone—like to get a check in the mail every month that not only helps pay the bills, but also helps fight climate change?

An independent company has analyzed the effect of such a carbon tax and dividend on Congressional District 22, which covers most of Fresno, Clovis, Reedley, Visalia, and Tulare. The bottom 3/5 of households would come out ahead because the dividends would more than compensate for any higher energy costs. And the richest one-fifth of households would come out behind by just 1%.

Although climate change has been a very partisan issue in recent years, prominent conservatives are now speaking out in favor of action. On February 8 of this year, George Shultz stood alongside James Baker (G. W. Bush’s Secretary of State) at a news conference to announce their carbon tax and dividend plan. They urged the President and Congress to put such a plan into law. No one likes taxes. But as George Shultz explains it, any tax that returns all money directly to the people is not a true tax.

Their plan is similar to that of my organization, Citizens’ Climate Lobby. It is a plan that both liberals and conservatives can support, and therefore stands a reasonable chance of succeeding even in these highly partisan times.

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Citizens’ Climate Lobby group at the Capital in Washington DC in 2016

We need more people to help protect our climate. Consider joining our Fresno chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Check out our Facebook group at

To learn and discuss more about how we can keep a healthy climate, please come to the talk I will be giving on Earth Day “Eve,” Friday, April 21 at 6:30 p.m., at the Reedley Peace Center. The Peace Center is located at the First Mennonite Church, 1208 L Street, in Reedley.

Don Gaede grew up in Fresno, and practices internal medicine and vascular medicine there. He has been a passionate advocate for clean air and a healthy climate for many years, and is currently the editor of Fresno-Madera Medical Society’s quarterly magazine, Central Valley Physician.


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