As a California native, I spent my summers in the sweltering heat. I splashed through the terrible twos in the kiddie pool inflated in my backyard, sashayed into the neighbor’s sprinklers after watching “High School Musical” in 5th grade, and spent countless hours getting lost in the labyrinth of “Water World” as a teen.
I thought this year would be the same – blistering but blissful. But when I woke up in February to snow peppering the peak of Mount Diablo, I sensed that this summer wouldn’t be filled with the usual sunbathing adventures.
For a while, the snow was fun. I watched classmates drive up to the snow after school and experience the winter wonderland for themselves. It was the first time any of us had seen snow since we were young. It felt like a miracle.
Little did we know we were in the eye of the hurricane – the calm before the storm.
For three weeks, Danville was engulfed. A deluge of tropical moisture blanketed my hometown in Contra Costa County and the rest of the state with unrelenting rain and snow. We were bombarded with weather alerts warning of floods and dangerous winds. Lights began to flicker and soon the power went out, leaving us in total darkness, even during school.
Soon, my town, still submerged under floodwater, began to slide. Landslides pitched boulders and soil down canyons, tumbling into oncoming traffic. Piles of debris buried highways and local roads. Flat roads became rollercoasters of warped concrete. The harsh winds knocked trees over like matchsticks.
It felt like a fever dream – how had sunny California turned into a soaking mess? The answer was a phrase that has become synonymous among my friends: “OMG, we’re all gonna die.”
As Californians, we’ve always known that climate change exists around the world and that it often makes bad weather events more extreme. For a long time, we assumed climate change was some far off problem that wouldn’t affect us. Icebergs in Antarctica. Third-world countries. Poorer people. We assumed we were separated from the looming destruction and that somehow we were safe from the worst of it.
We didn’t expect it to come so soon.
In the aftermath, I was constantly reminded of the devastation. At school, an oak tree branch tore down the roof of the sports medicine classroom. The beach my family drives to every spring break was flooded beyond repair, leaving thousands of residents homeless. Stanley Dollar Drive, the street I pass every week on my way to work at the animal hospital, was lined with flowers commemorating a man who died after a tree toppled over, crushing him inside his car.
March’s onslaught of destructive storms killed five people in the Bay Area alone.
Just a few months before the storm, researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research reported that climate change had doubled the risk of an extreme storm capable of producing a megaflood in California. While some experts dispute whether the winter storms this year were caused by climate change, there was little talk of the disaster predictions we were given by scientists, or of proposed legislation to prevent catastrophes like this in the future.
This leaves many to wonder, what will it require for California to finally take real, meaningful action?
To be sure, California has taken action to combat the consequences of extreme weather, like landslides. Debris basins – pits carved out of the landscape to catch material flowing downhill –have been commissioned across the state. But basins, which can require a lot of land, can also disrupt the natural ecosystem. Some might not be large enough to protect against future landslides worsened by a warmer climate.
Besides, protective measures hardly scratch the surface of the root problem: climate change. If we want to create real, unfiltered change, we need to start within our own communities – electrifying homes, using clean transportation and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Federal programs such as the Home Energy Rebate Program helps cover the cost of switching from gas-powered kitchen appliances to electric versions, promoting a more sustainable future for California.
As summer approaches, I can’t help but wonder if snowy winters and drenched springs are the future that’s been carved out for us. For now, I can only hope – hope that we can work together to protect California by meaningfully addressing climate change.
more from calmatters’ earth day op-ed contest
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