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Polluters, Permafrost, Renewable Fuel, The Ozone Layer And More: We Answer Your Climate Questions

Carbon Beach, also known locally as "Billionaire Beach," will could all but disappear due to sea level rise. Photographed from the air on September 9, 2019 in Malibu, California. (James Bernal for LAist)
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We spent one full week writing about climate change, and encouraged you to stop screaming into the void and to scream your questions at us instead.

More than 140 of you did, and we've been working on getting them answered.

Below is a roundup of a few Q&As about what's happening to Earth.

Q: "What is the real threat of sea level rise and how are predictions lining up with reality?" -- Paul Jenkin, Ventura

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A: Sea level rise is a real threat to everything we love (and maybe a few things we don't) along not just Southern California's coast, but to coasts around the planet.

The rate of rise differs by location, but according to California's sea level rise guidance document, Southern California can expect to see between two to three (plus) feet of rise by 2100, depending on the emissions scenario.

It does leave open the possibility that we could see six or even ten feet of rise, which is important to consider for planning purposes.

Rising seas will inundate infrastructure like Pacific Coast Highway and force us to move homes and communities back from the water.

Whether we do that or not, we'll also lose many of our beaches. It'll also alter surf spots, including classic SoCal waves. If you don't believe it's a very real threat, you should spend some time reading the latest, sobering UN report about our oceans.

Q: "Has the melting of the permafrost and the related methane emissions from this melting been accurately assessed in greenhouse gas inventories, and accounted for in global temperature increase predictions?" -- Jim, Mesa County, CO

A: Compared to the methane given off by places like wetlands and animals (those infamous cow burps), methane emissions from the melting permafrost have been relatively minor.

They could become a much larger problem as they continue to melt, but how much of a problem is difficult to assess, according to Tapio Schneider, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at Caltech.

"It just involves interactions of the ice thawing, how the clouds over the poles affect the surface climate, and the whole microbiology of soils. You have to get all of that right altogether to predict such things accurately. And that's hard," he said.

Q: "Besides the military, what other industries or corporations are quietly planning for sea level rise and more extreme weather?" -- Candace, Orange County

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A: There are so many. Here are a few.:

Q: "When I was younger, in the 90s, in the early 2000s I would hear a lot about the ozone layer and ozone depletion, but I never hear about it now. I'm just wondering - is there a particular reason why?" -- Anonymous, Los Angeles

A: Because we actually got on top of the problem.

In the 1980s, 197 countries came together to ban chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals found in refrigerants and aerosols that were taking big bites out of the ozone layer.

The hole is still there, but it's healing and could be all fixed up in the next 50 years.

Q: "Who is the worst CO2 polluter in the world today? And what are their projected pollution contributions into the future, and what can the United States do about that?" -- Eric Anderson, Northern California

These were the top 10 emitters of CO2 in 2017:

  1. China
  2. U.S.
  3. European Union
  4. India
  5. Russia
  6. Japan
  7. Germany
  8. South Korea
  9. Iran
  10. Saudi Arabia

World wide, between 2005 and 2017, CO2 emissions from the energy industry increased by 24%, while transportation increased by 21%. We're not slowing down.
Where we end up as a planet depends on how much we decide to curb emissions and if we can pull greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

There is a scenario where we continue polluting unabated, and even increase our emissions through the end of the century. This course of action could see global temperatures rise by nine degrees fahrenheit -- which would be catastrophic.

In an effort to avoid such a future, Project Drawdown has put together a comprehensive list of things that can be changed.

Q: "If scientists could make government change or enact three laws to reduce our impact on the climate, what would they be?" -- S.H., Los Angeles

A: We took this question to Lenka Novak, a postdoctoral scholar in atmospheric dynamics at Caltech.

"To me there are three main areas that should be targeted.

First, there's the direct emission of fossil fuels. In terms of a direct legislative limit on emissions, I think a good example is what California is already doing. It has a scheme where they cut the amount of carbon that can be released, and each company seems to has an allowance of the carbon that can be released, and if they don't use it they can trade that excess allowance to other companies.

Secondly, there's incentivizing, making and using clean technologies. I think Tesla is a good example - creating those companies and supporting them. I think you could also apply a similar business model to efficient buildings and similar products.

And lastly - education I think it's very important to incorporate climate change facts, the most recent discoveries, in school curricula, so that people know what climate change means to them personally, and so that they know where to find information."

Q: "I heard that turf replacements and cutting trees is actually making more heat bc the grass and trees naturally absorb heat and help replenish water cycle. Is it possible that we are speeding the heating up of our planet by changing out greenery for rocks/pavement? I want to be water-wise but worry about the unintended consequences." -- Anonymous, Orange County

A: What you're thinking of is the urban heat island effect, which is a major problem in LA.

We asked our colleague, infrastructure reporter Sharon McNary, to weigh in on this one.

"First, under the turf replacement program, turf cannot be replaced with rocks or pavement. There's no money for that under the current iteration of the Metropolitan Water District program, although it was allowed under the old program that ended a few years ago.

Grass that is coming out under the turf replacement program is supposed to be replaced by mulch, plants or decomposed granite. Those things may be hotter than grass, but they use less water. People can, of course, tear out their grass and replace it with bare dirt or gravel, and that would increase the heat island effect.

Also, some cities and county areas might have rules about how much concrete can be in your front yard, so paving over your grass (and inducing the heat it would produce) might or might not be allowed in your area. Trees are not being cut, as far as I know, as a water-saving measure."

Q: "Are there any jet fuels that do not contribute to the climate crisis? What are the most promising renewable jet fuels being tested or developed?" -- James Warren, South Pasadena

A: There's been research into using biofuels - like animal fat and vegetable oils - though when burned they still produce greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric planes are being worked on, as are planes that run on hydrogen.

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