Hotter, Drier, and on Fire: the IE’s Climate Future

Panelist Andrea Vidaurre questions: Will the Inland Empire still be livable in 2100? “Is it even livable now?”


On Thursday Jan. 9, experts met with KPCC’s senior science reporter Emily Guerin at the University of Redlands to discuss the effect of climate change on the Inland Empire. The panelists included:



All panelists echoed the major impact the Inland Empire will be (and already has been) facing: higher temperatures, a more arid climate, wetter wet seasons, and drier dry seasons. By the end of the century, we will be seeing a warming of 9- 15 °F. 


California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment highlighted that California could be seeing an additional 70 days of over 112 °F in inland deserts, which includes San Bernardino county. Both ends of the spectrum, drought and extreme wet weather, will become more intense and erratic.


Wet winters followed by dry summers create the perfect environment for raging wildfires: the rain allows ground vegetation growth for the fire to burn through. Scientists are also seeing precipitation in the form of rain instead of snow in the Colorado Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas, which has lead to decreased snowpack. 


This lack of snow is detrimental because it affects the amount of melted snow, known as runoff, that feeds the Colorado River. Southern California withdraws one-third of its water from the Colorado River, where the state will be seeing a 35% decrease of supply.


Professor Tim Krantz commented, “water is California’s Achilles’ heel.” 


The water supply system constructed in Southern California was built for a different type of climate system, Kurt Schwabe pointed out. There is not even enough water in the Colorado River to meet state water allocations to begin with.


The state is receiving less from the Colorado River due to changing climatic conditions, and currently does not have the capacity to store and capture rain runoff during the sporadic periods of monsoon rains. Groundwater aquifers have a lot of capacity, in addition with incentives for replacing water intensive landscaping (like lawns) with drought tolerant plants, known as xeriscaping. “Recycling water augments relief,” Schwabe adds.


Krantz supplied a few examples to put climate projections into perspective. First, the extreme high desert temperatures of Australia and the expansion of the Great Sandy Desert to the coast are expected to be seen here. Second, the climate of Central Baja California is coming our way: California will be experiencing an arid climate, lose the winter wetness, hotter summers, and occasional monsoon rains. Lastly, the Salton Sea provides a look into how the Inland Empire is already being affected by less water in the Colorado River and increased temperatures. The shores of the Salton Sea are contracting and exposing an estimated 140 square miles of exposed lake bed sediments. These sediments are less than two centimeters and are traveling to the Inland Empire, Phoenix, and Mexicali. Once these dust particles are airborne, they cannot be expelled from the lungs and carry harmful chemicals with them.


Andrea Vidaurre highlighted that pockets of the Inland Empire are dealing with the serious health effects of air pollution, which will only exacerbate and spread throughout the region if action on climate change is not taken. 


The Inland Empire is a large warehouse district. Diesel guzzling trucks are emitting carcinogens into the air and contributing to 45% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to Jonathan Parfrey, which directly affects industry workers. 


Vidaurre commented that indoor heat standards for warehouses in California were just recently passed, requiring ventilation for relief from the heat. Oppressive heat also hurts the shipping workers who can get second degree burns from being the first exposed to the scorching shipping containers. 


“It’s not about if we’re going to have pollution, it’s about how much pollution we are going to have,” Schwabe said. 


An audience member asked about how viable market solutions can be to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and Schwabe responded that “well functioning and planned markets” have the potential for success. Market formation should not be left up to the polluting businesses— responsibility should rest on the shoulders of a regulator. 


Vidaurre shared that she has seen money dumped into vulnerable communities to mitigate a problem that already exists. In order to be effective, transparency about where the money is actually going to the community is needed. 


Parfrey explained that there is a current mindset that “working with climate change is an added cost.” However, all other budgets (fire department, health services, natural resources, etc.) will be increasing with climate change, Parfey said. States need to switch to the forward thinking approach that “investments we make today will save us money in the future.” 


Vidaurre shared that it feels as if an ultimatum is being given: “choose a job or choose to breathe.” Instead we need to strike a balance with economic development, through job growth in alternative sectors, and sustainable policies, she mentioned.


It’s not all bad news, however. Parfey highlighted that climate projections for the Inland Empire will become a reality only if the state continues the business as usual model, but if the government is able to mitigate emissions, then temperatures can be stabilized. Panelists shared multiple examples of existing tools waiting to be harnessed. 


The panelists shared policies and movements that brought them hope. Vidaurre is especially excited about steps towards making trucks electrified and local policies that regulate industries, like rooftop solar. 


Parfrey reminded the audience that the state of California has legally vowed to be at 100% renewable energy in a couple of decades and thus modeling that the economy can flourish while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, cities are being redesigned to offer affordable housing near public transportation in an effort to reduce transportation emissions. 


Schwabe was inspired by improvements in water use efficiencies, and all panelists touched on the importance of increased public involvement seen through community members taking on climate change as an issue of their own through community engagement, increased student engagement and concern in university level courses, and the informed public who joined the panelists tonight. 


Schwabe reminded the audience that they have the ability to take local actions, vote for local officials and attend city council meetings, all of which can have a global effect. 


This live KPCC event proved to be enlightening for students and Inland Empire community members, and shed light on reasons to be hopeful for the future.

[hr gap=””]Photograph by Caillie Roach.