Students flocked to Gleeson Plaza between classes to catch the sun’s rays this week, and while our staff enjoyed a break from the fog, we reflected on the record-breaking temperatures California has seen this month.
The first three months of the year are typically the wettest, and California depends on them to curb the severity of drought. However, the state experienced the driest start to the year in at least 100 years this January and February.
Experiencing all the nuances of life in California has influenced our perceptions of environmentalism, our future careers, and the privilege we feel to study and work here.
California is praised for its rich history, incredible natural wonders, and mecca of tourism, but its health is often forgotten. Yet, even with the 5th largest economy in the world, California is in danger of becoming more inaccessible than it already is.
In the next 30 years without a systematized effort to slow climate change, the nation is forecasted to see more extreme weather events. And, as is the case with all environmental risks, rising temperatures and related catastrophes, death, and illness disproportionately affect low-income communities, people of color, and other vulnerable populations such as elderly who live alone and people who are disabled. More than 600 people are estimated to have died during the July 2021 heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest, and the consequences associated with events like it are only predicted to worsen. The same year, more than a million people were at least temporarily displaced by wildfires in California.
Our fear for the state’s future, and the preservation and inclusivity of the California Dream, is growing. Record temperatures mean higher levels of evaporation, which mean even less efficient water transportation throughout the state. We cannot discuss concerns of increased temperatures in the state without thinking of the link it has to our already inefficient and unjust water infrastructure. Our minds race between how we can afford to preserve and restore California’s pristine waterways, climate, and agricultural strength, while still making it possible for people to afford to live here. With only one more month of the wet season, and the state’s snowpack at 63% of the average at this time of year, residents’ awareness of their role in helping the state we love needs to improve.
Dry years and seasons fluctuate as a natural part of the water cycle, but our consumption habits are not fluctuating as Newsom’s voluntary 15% water reduction plea with California residents is not nearing the success it needs.
Even as we may roll our eyes, individual water conservation efforts cannot be understated in how much they can contribute to actual statewide change. If we want to steer clear of mandates like the 25% decrease in water consumption implemented by Governor Brown in the 2015 drought era, we have to be willing to decrease our personal water usage (no matter how much we love our long showers).
At the same time, it is unfortunate how much the climate crisis has become an issue of the self, instead of looking to the corporations that truly cause it. However, focusing on the impacts that we can make in our communities is the most tangible way to move forward without getting discouraged by the immensity of this issue.
On a local level, USF can keep students and faculty accountable for our conservation responsibilities. For instance, transparency in water usage for gardening around campus and in the dorms could spark more care for the seemingly endless resource. Many out-of-state students that we have talked to are unaware of the history of drought in California and don’t know that they need to, or how to alter their habits. A more pronounced campaign to bring out-of-state students up to speed on California conservation initiatives could be a way to get students more in tune with environmental issues.
Our staff is not exempt from the initiatives we are proposing. For some of us, water conservation has been a lifelong initiative. As elementary school students, we had water conservation lessons and were shown videos telling us to turn off the tap while brushing our teeth, instructed to take two-minute showers, and our parents were advised to only run the sprinklers in the early morning. We have had to continue to inform ourselves about the extent of the drought California has been experiencing, and it is a constant work in progress. Simply discussing this topic with each other, we have learned from one another’s experiences and studies of the extent of the drought, and more about the global environmental crisis we are living through.
The earth has seen eras of extreme climate conditions and has prevailed, so it is likely to do the same now. Humanity, however, is driving itself toward extinction by choosing to ignore our planet’s warnings. It is our responsibility to keep ourselves informed on the negative impact humans have had on the environment and actively help reverse it. As journalists, it is essential to help readers understand the facts about climate change so no one can rationally deny what is happening. Misinformation surrounding climate change perpetuates the short-term thinking and destructive individualism that is catalyzing negative feedback loops in our environment.