Earthquakes, fires, droughts and disease: it sounds like a recipe for destruction. While most San Diegans worry little about a possible doomsday scenario, a new report delivers some sobering predictions.
If the San Diego Foundation and its scientists are correct, San Diego will be dried, drowned and burnt to the ground by 2050. Okay, maybe it won't be that drastic. But by reading the literature, we are in for some pretty dire times.
The non-profit, with more than $612 million in assets, issued its latest report — San Diego’s Changing Environment: A Regional Wake Up Call — in September. The report states that the science backs up its climate related doomsday scenarios and warns that our leaders need to act now to avoid chaos.
But while the San Diego Foundation asserts that the science is settled, there are plenty of reports to suggest that some of its claims may be a tad bit alarmist. And, since the report is only focused on the impact of climate change, it leaves out one of the most likely doomsday scenarios — the dreaded earthquake.
We took an in-depth look at the Foundation’s report, other science reports and spoke with experts to determine the five most likely doomsday scenarios.
1. A massive earthquake will destroy buildings and shutdown water access
We can’t predict when earthquakes will hit. But scientists can look at faults and patterns of earthquakes during many years, according to Mike Blanpied, a USGS scientist.
“We can do a pretty good job of saying where on the landscape we’re likely to have earthquakes on which faults, how big those earthquakes are likely to be and about how heavy the shaking is likely to be from those earthquakes,” Blanpied said.
From east to west, the major active faults in the San Diego County consist of San Jacinto, Elsinore, La Nacion and Rose Canyon. Offshore there is the Coronado Bank, San Diego Trough and San Clemente faults.
The Rose Canyon Fault would do the most damage. The fault cuts right through the heart of downtown San Diego and then follows the 5 freeway north, veering west right before the 52 highway. It is capable of generating a 7.0 to 8.0 magnitude earthquake. The good news is that the fault is not considered to be a strong threat.
But the San Andreas Fault, even though it runs outside of the county, is a threat. It runs more than 800 miles from Northern California and ending at the Salton Sea. It is capable of a 8.1 magnitude earthquake in the south, and that would be enough to cause damage to San Diego’s water pipelines and power lines. If there was a San Andreas Fault occurrence, emergency officials could be looking at approximately 5,000 water breaks in the pipeline system. That could leave San Diego struggling for drinkable water. Ruptured gas lines would also increase the likelihood of fires.
What can we do? Create a disaster plan for your household that includes a meeting place, out-of-state contact and disaster supply kits. Home owners can also identify and fix building weaknesses, such as inadequate foundations, unbraced cripple walls, soft first stories and unreinforced masonry.
2. Hotter temperatures will exacerbate drought conditions, driving businesses away
Talk about water problems. San Diego is in the midst of a prolonged drought and the San Diego Foundation predicts summers will get even hotter, exacerbating water problems.
Temperatures will rise 1.5 to 4.5 degrees, which may not sound that bad. But heat waves in the summer will be more common. The average August temperature will rise from 78 degrees in San Diego to 86 degrees by 2050. In Chula Vista it will rise from 86 degrees to 91 degrees in August. And San Marcos will feel more like Palm Springs, with August temperatures rising from 89 degrees today to 97 degrees by 2050.
All this climate change is expected to shrink the Colorado River flow by 20 percent or more, where we get much of our water, the San Diego Foundation warns. Also, lower snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada could also hamper water from Northern California.
Of course, temperatures have only risen by 1.53 degrees since 1880. While the last decade was the warmest on record, the past four years have been cooler. Despite the San Diego Foundation’s assertion that the science is settled on this matter, many scientists disagree. In fact, trends show that average high temperatures in San Diego are getting lower since 1970.
But even without warmer temperatures, San Diego’s population is still expected to grow by 40 percent to 4.5 million, which will increase water needs by close to the same percent. That has scientists predicting an 18 percent shortfall in water by 2050. That would mean higher water rates which, in turn, would likely drive businesses away from San Diego.
What can we do? With 32 percent of water going towards residential landscaping, it seems like its time to switch to drought tolerant landscaping. Water districts can also modify rates to further incentivize water conservation.
3. Wildfires will burn up homes
The warmer temperatures and higher frequency of droughts will wreak havoc, burning up a record number of acres, the San Diego Foundation warns. In 2003 and 2007, wildfires burned nearly 740,000 acres in San Diego County. By 2050, the number of days each year with ideal conditions for large-scale fires will increase by as much as 20 percent, the San Diego Foundation predicts.
Scientists are unclear how climate change will impact Santa Ana conditions. Some predict a decrease in frequency and intensity. Others predict an increase. And, as mentioned earlier, average high temperatures in San Diego have not risen since 1970.
But it’s better to be safe than sorry. More people in San Diego will likely mean more man-made fires.
What can we do? Prohibit development in fire-prone areas, and manage vegetation to reduce fire intensity. Ensure our fire fighters are well equipped.
4. The sea level will rise and drown the beach communities
Scientists predict the sea level will increase 18 inches by 2050. Never mind, that it has only increased by 6 inches since 1900. Scientists say the rate of increase will accelerate.
Watch out Mission Beach! High tides are expected to flood parts of the beaches and bayside streets, and rare high surf events will breach the sea wall, flooding the boardwalk and streets.
Flooding will threaten homes, businesses and hotels in Coronado, La Jolla Shores, Del Mar and Oceanside. The good news is that the damage will be limited to those communities. No one is predicting the rise will be high enough to flood downtown.
What can we do? Build walls and natural buffers to protect beaches and coastlines. Require buildings to prepare for floods and buy insurance.
5. More elderly and children will die from illness
Increased heat, air pollution, wildfires and infectious disease will cause illness and death, especially among the elderly, children and chronically ill.
Warmer temperatures could lead to a growing mosquito population, increasing the occurrence of West Nile Virus, malaria and dengue fever. In our waters, conditions will increase “red tides,” which can harbor toxic bacteria and other diseases.
Ouch! That sounds a little too much like Revelations 8:8-10, which states that a “third part of the sea became blood,” and a “third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died.”
What can we do? Public health planners can better prepare hospitals to care for people during heat waves, and improve early warning systems. They can expand disease monitoring and educate the public better.