Obama administration sounds climate alarm

In his first days in office, President Obama’s energy secretary, Californian Steven Chu, had dire warnings for the impacts of global warming on California agriculture.

The comments made by Chu during his interview with the Los Angeles Times are an early indication of how the Obama administration will wrestle with the issue of global climate change, and the stark differences between the current president and his predecessor, George W. Bush.

“I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen,” he said. “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.” And, he added, I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going” either.

Chu’s comments come as California is in the throes of a drought that some scientists fear could be the worst in the state’s history. The state’s Sierra snowpack is only at 61 percent of normal, according to a recent survey.

His remarks to the Times go further than comments posted on Obama’s Web site before Chu’s confirmation.

“We simply do not know what will be happening if we go into higher averaage temperatures 4,-6 degrees. If you compare the temperature we are in the world to the ice ages, it was only about 6 degrees Centigrade colder.” So, Chu said, it “would not take much imagination”  to envision that a warmer world would be a very different world.

“It would be very hard to adapt,” if the planet continues to warm, said Chu.

 In California, the governor continues to use the draught to push for increased water storage capacity.

“‘California is headed toward one of the worst water crises in its history, underscoring the need to upgrade our water infrastructure by increasing water storage, improving conveyance, protecting the (Sacramento) Delta’s ecosystem and promoting greater water conservation,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

In a separate statement, Water Resources director Lester Snow said, “We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history.”

The drought has increased the call for the state to increase its water storage capacity. But above-ground water storage proposals continue to meet stiff opposition from environmental groups in the Capitol.

Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno, has made water storage a top legislative priority. And Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has expressed optimism that a deal could be reached between agriculture, business and environmental groups, and hoped to make a water deal an early momentum builder in the Legislature.

“A water bond is teed up,” Steinberg told Capitol Weekly back in December. “Not the conveyance issues. There have been two years of negotiations and the differences have been narrowed to a very small range of issues. Why can’t we finalize that in the first 120 days. We won’t put it on the ballot until 2010, but why can’t we get the work done?”

In the meantime, Chu said he hopes his comments will get attention not just in California, but across the country.

“I’m hoping that the American people will wake up,” Chu told the Times.

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