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Finding Ways to ADAPT

Finding Ways to ADAPT

Sonoma County Adaptation Forum Draws Over 200

by Tish Levee

The message that came through loud and clear on April 8th, when over 200 people gathered at SSU’s Student Center for the Sonoma County Adaptation Forum (SCAF), is that Sonoma County is on the cutting edge of dealing with climate change. This was the first county-level adaptation forum, and we are the first county with its own Regional Climate Protection Agency (RCPA), which received one of 16 White House Climate Champion Awards in December. As Supervisor James Gore commented, “… we are the most advanced community that I’ve seen in this country, if not in the world, in terms of what we’re doing to address these issues…”

With three panels and a total of 29 speakers, the amount of information, ideas, and innovations was way beyond the scope of what I can report in this article. The organizers of SCAF plan to upload the audio of the entire forum and the slides of the PowerPoint presentations to where you can explore the forum in depth and then follow up on it.

My most vivid impressions

SCAF had an optimistic atmosphere, despite the picture the first panel painted of our situation. Sonoma County Water Agency’s James Jasperse said, “It’s not a future issue, it’s a now issue. This year Sonoma County has had to declare emergencies for drought and flood at the same time; drought is the “new normal;” sea levels will rise over a meter by 2100; and according to Brian Vaughn of the County Health Department, quoting the Lancet, “climate change is the biggest global health issue in the 21st century.” Vulnerable populations will be impacted the most, not necessarily those physically nearest the changed conditions. In heat waves, those most affected are the elderly and those living in areas, such as Roseland, where there’s a lot of pavement, little insulation or air conditioning, and a lack of cooling centers.

But the focus of SCAF was on adaptation: how to manage the risks of climate change through planning and response. Justin Witt of Brelje & Race, said, “You’ve heard that ‘it takes a village.’…to respond to climate challenges, it will take a village with a plan,” to which a questioner later added, “a plan which is being implemented.

Innovative ideas that I’m really excited about.

Given the recent concern over agriculture’s use of water, the fact that California urban areas produce 58% more CO2 than agricultural areas impressed me. Ed Thompson, the California Director of American Farmland Trust, pointed out that nearly 40,000 acres of land are developed annually, producing about two million tons of carbon, equivalent to almost 400,000 vehicles on the road. Conversion of farmland offsets all the positive things we are doing to reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled). 

Another innovative strategy discussed by Valerie Minton, Sonoma Resource Conservation District’s Program Director, is the application of compost on coast rangelands. Over a three-year period this resulted in a 33% increase of carbon sequestration in the soil. Given California’s huge amount of rangeland this could go a long way to reducing GHG emissions. At the same time, compost created a 25% increase in the soil’s water holding capacity and a 42% increase in above ground growth, which helps ranchers’ profits, while the grass reduces erosion in extreme storms. 

Community Soil Foundation’s Paolo Tantarelli shared a pioneering partnership at Larkfield School that includes the school district, Regional Parks, U.S. Fish and Game, and 20 farmers and vendors working to develop a curriculum focusing on natural resource protection using small-scale organic farming. Kids learn math, science, history, and art through gardening and having their own farmers’ market booth. This demonstration garden can easily be replicated on other public access land.

Biochar, a new/old technology, creates elemental carbon from woody waste by burning it in specialized ways, producing almost zero emissions. David Morrell, of the Sonoma Biochar Initiative, described increases in soil fertility and water retention in biochar treated soil as a way of using woody waste from pruning trees and vineyards, while also generating energy.

I came away from SCAF excited about the future, and full of hope. While we must continue to work on conservation and reducing GHG emissions, we have huge opportunities to make “climate smart” decisions and invest our resources into solutions that can enhance our community resilience to Sonoma County’s future climate changes.

©Tish Levee 2015