Opinion: Antarctic ice melts and California’s response is ... a bullet train?

You’ve been hearing it more often lately: Things are warming up faster than scientists had predicted. Now, a study out of UC Irvine and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ups the ante, saying that rapidly melting ice in Antarctica contains enough mass to raise the global sea level by 4 feet.

According to the announcement:

“A rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in irreversible decline, with nothing to stop the entire glacial basin from disappearing into the sea, according to researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine.

“The new study presents multiple lines of evidence — incorporating 40 years of observations — that six massive glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector ‘have passed the point of no return,’ according to glaciologist Eric Rignot, a UC Irvine Earth system science professor who is also with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory....

“These glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing as much ice into the ocean each year as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet does. They contain enough ice to boost the global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected. Rignot said the findings will require that current predictions of sea level rise be revised upward.”

You can find the full explanation of what’s happening here.


It has to make one wonder why, with billions of dollars a year coming in to California from the state’s cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases, Gov. Jerry Brown wants to spend 30% of it on the high-speed rail project. The train wouldn’t be ready to run for about a decade, and its ability to reduce vehicle miles driven remains to be seen. (Or not, if the state is unable to pull together the legal wins and financial resources to build it.)

There is a reason, of course. But given the latest scientific findings coming in from one group of climate experts after another, it might be time for some rethinking. The way AB 32, California’s landmark legislation to fight global warming, is written, the proceeds from cap-and-trade are supposed to be used to reduce greehouse gas emissions, not to protect the state against the inevitable effects of those emissions.

Trying to prevent the worst of global warming is still a necessary goal, but Sacramento leadership should be paying heed. It makes sense to amend AB 32 so that a hefty portion of cap-and-trade money is used to protect the coast and help the state adapt to other foreseeable changes, such as drought and worsening fire seasons, as well as stave off as much warming as we can.