While scientific reports continue to mount confirming that global climate change is increasing temperatures, causing more frequent weather extremes and raising the sea level in California, UC Cooperative Extension is working to ensure the worst predictions are avoided and California residents and businesses will be able to adapt to the change.
Each year, a diverse group of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources academics and program implementation professionals meet to share and collect the latest climate change experiences, ideas, science and solutions. The team works with farmers across the state to improve production practices and minimize environmental impact, conduct agricultural and natural resources conservation research, and coordinate programs like California Naturalist and UC Master Gardener, which recruit and educate volunteers to reach out to communities statewide to extend research-based information.
Reaching real people
In 2019, extension practitioners explored new approaches to delivery of information and services. For example, the first speaker addressed the way climate change impacts may be viewed through the lens of African-American or First Nation experiences, influenced by poverty, historical trauma and even spirituality.
Theopia Jackson, clinical psychologist at Saybrook University in Oakland, encouraged the team to consider whether assisting Americans navigating the changing climate or suffering the consequences of extreme weather events have “the bandwidth to take in one more helping hand.” Jackson has a long history of providing therapy services, specializing in serving populations coping with chronic illness and complex trauma.
Jackson suggested helpers ask themselves, “Are we inadvertently causing more stress than good? Do I have a sense for what they are already dealing with before bringing something new into the community?”
Jackson said the conversation about climate change in many communities might be more productive focused less on whether climate change exists or not, and instead on how to “join with them around the human experience.”
“If I'm trying to ‘talk them into it,' I need to step back,” Jackson said. “The conversation could be about scarcity or lifestyle. We need to find a way to join and hope they will get it before we've done irreversible damage.”
The careful selection of terminology and approach in climate change conversations was also raised by Dan Sonke, director of sustainable agriculture for Campbell's Soup. The company's primary and best-known product is soup, but it owns other familiar brands, including Pepperidge Farms, Snyder Pretzels, Kettle Chips and Emerald Nuts.
In California, Sonke works closely with farmers producing fresh produce to be used in Campbell's products, particularly processing tomatoes. During his career, he also worked in Campbell's marketing, based on its “corporate purpose.”
“We make real food for real people,” says the Campbell's corporate purpose. “People love that our food fits their real lives, fuels their bodies, and feeds their souls. And they appreciate knowing what goes into our food, and why — so they can feel good about the choices they make, for themselves and their loved ones.”
Sonke was hired to increase the use of sustainable farming practices by the company's producers and help farmers apply for grant funding from the state to implement climate-smart irrigation practices. The company was able to track a 20 percent reduction in water use and document a significant reduction in the emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. The program is successful, but isn't driving their farmer communications or soup sales, Sonke said.
“Farmers don't think in terms of climate change, but they respond to what they know,” Sonke said. “Consumers don't respond to climate change adaptation in terms of what products they buy. They respect sustainability, but have no understanding of ‘sustainable agriculture' and ‘carbon sequestration.'”
Growing UCCE climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience programs
UC ANR is working on new ways to reach out to farmers and the public with information on climate change. Six community education specialists have been hired and four more are being recruited to work in counties around the state to help farmers access programs that will help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farms and dairies, build resilience to climate change and increase profit.
The Climate-Smart Farming Program is a collaborative effort with the California Department of Food and Agriculture focused on implementing on-farm solutions to improve soil health, nutrient management, irrigation management, on-farm composting and manure management.
The CDFA programs involved are:
- State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program
- Healthy Soils Program
- Alternative Manure Management Program
The new community education specialists are already deployed in Mendocino, Glenn, Yolo, Santa Cruz, Ventura and San Diego counties. The four positions under recruitment will serve Imperial, San Joaquin, Fresno and Kern counties. To get information about these programs, contact:
- Fresno County, UCCE advisor Dan Munk, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Glenn County, UCCE advisor Betsy Karle, email@example.com
- Imperial County, UCCE advisor Oli Bachie, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kern County, UCCE advisor Brian Marsh, email@example.com
- Mendocino County, UCCE advisor Glenn McGourty, firstname.lastname@example.org
- San Diego County, UCCE advisor Laurent Ahiablame, email@example.com
- San Joaquin County, UCCE advisor Brent Holtz, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Santa Cruz County, UCCE advisor Mark Bolda, email@example.com
- Ventura County, UCCE advisor Ben Faber, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Yolo County, UCCE advisor Morgan Doran, email@example.com
To reach a broad swath of California residents with research-based information on climate change mitigation and adaptation, UC ANR's California Naturalist program is leveraging its well-established partnerships with formal and informal science education institutions across the state to create a legion of climate stewards. At the team meeting, CalNat coordinator Greg Ira announced that the California Naturalist program has hired an academic coordinator to develop curriculum that will allow existing partners to deliver the material as part of the California Naturalist program. The graduates of this California Naturalist course focused on climate change will be encouraged to engage in volunteer service that helps build community resilience to climate change. These include participation in local adaptation planning efforts, community and citizen science projects, or addressing issues of social justice. The coordinator begins Feb. 19.
Renata Brillinger of the California Climate Action Network shared optimistic thoughts about the opportunities for climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience. In terms of politics, she said California leadership has accepted climate change as a settled matter and are supportive of programs to address the issue. At the federal level, it is not easy to talk about climate change, but “that will change,” she assured.
Brillinger said biodiversification of California is an exciting area for climate change adaptation. Research is needed to understand how to shift crop locations for future production, and determine where, for example, water-intensive crops or orchards with chill requirements should be grown. More information is needed, she said, on how healthy soil will relate to climate resilience in agriculture.
“We have to reinvest in extension and Resource Conservation Districts,” Brillinger said.
Other possible climate change outcomes in California may be returning farmland to less-intensive uses, such as grazing. Fallowing land was one way that the agriculture industry coped with the drought of 2011-16, and implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – a direct result of the drought – is estimated to take 1 million acres of farmland out of production. This approach won't be a solution for all farmers and ranchers, said David Lile, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor.
“Ranchers and farmers interested in long-term sustainability, keeping the farm in place, will need help to integrate competing forces,” Lile said. “Economics will not be the only driving force.”
(Published April 21, 2019)
For UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), attention to climate change goes beyond an increase in severe wildfires, droughts, floods and heat in California, and their impact on natural resources, agriculture and the state's economy.
The program focuses on the health and resilience of people in California, particularly those most vulnerable to climate change – those who can't afford air conditioning, who work outside on farms and in construction, those who are already disadvantaged by a low income, racial inequity or advanced age.
“UCCE climate change efforts must account for people and communities that face socioeconomic and political barriers to prepare for, adapt to and recover from the effects of climate change,” said Clare Gupta, UCCE public policy specialist.
UCCE advisors, educators and specialists are working in their local communities across the state to prepare residents to adapt to the warming climate and make changes that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to make climate change less severe. They convened Oct. 7-8 at UCCE's Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center in San Mateo County to learn about projects currently underway to confront the crisis, share resources for adaptation, identify future research and education needs, and add their voices to a growing chorus of experts speaking out to protect the future of planet earth.
“We are at a momentous time,” said Janaki Jagannath, a law school student and climate activist who spoke at the meeting. “California is waking up to environmental justice problems and climate change.”
The plight of underprivileged California residents at the forefront of climate change impacts became crystal clear to UCCE small farms advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard when she was hired during the state's devastating 2011-2016 drought.
In the summer of 2014, many small-scale family farms in the San Joaquin Valley saw their wells dry up due to dropping groundwater levels. Some Hmong farmers were calling suicide hotlines, in fear of losing their crops and livelihoods. Dahlquist-Willard said these farms, with shallower wells and limited resources to cope with the effects of drought, are more vulnerable to climate change.
To help Hmong farmers and other small-scale farms prepare for the next drought, Dahlquist-Willard and her team began helping them with applications for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), which provides grants to improve irrigation systems. Improvements funded by SWEEP help farmers use less water and cut back on electricity for pumping.
So far, 38 Fresno and Tulare farmers have received SWEEP grants with technical assistance from Dahlquist-Willard's program, for a total of 878 acres.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which goes into effect in 2020, also imperils small-scale farmers. The new law will limit both large-scale and small-scale farmers' ability to pump groundwater, however, small-scale farmers often are not in a position to influence the agencies that will be governing groundwater use.
“There will be competition for water under SGMA,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “Whether the small farms still have access to water depends on how the rules are set up.”
SGMA poses another threat to vulnerable rural community members. Experts predict the imposition of regulations on groundwater use is likely to put 500,000 to 1 million acres of California farmland out of production, reducing jobs for farmworkers and putting a strain on businesses in the rural communities where they live and shop.
The expected shift in crops grown in California due to climate change also potentially reduces income for workers who have specialized in specific crops, said Federico Castillo, UC Berkeley agricultural ecology professor.
“They work longer hours to compensate,” Castillo said. “Their income is impacted.”
On a recent trip to Huron, a San Joaquin Valley city with highest proportion of Latino residents in the U.S., Castillo said he passed by vast solar farms that now cover formerly productive farmland.
“Solar farms are a benefit for society, but there are not local benefits. The problem is, this displaces farmworkers,” he said. “We have to think hard about economic policy. This is just one example. There are many others.”
In addition to the threat climate change poses to their employment, farmworkers are particularly susceptible to the warming temperatures the world faces. Castillo is studying the potential impact of weather extremes on people who do the planting, weeding, irrigating, pruning and harvesting that makes California's $50 billion annual agricultural output possible.
“Heat and humidity impacts ag workers negatively,” Castillo said. “It impacts the heart, liver and kidneys.”
What's more, many farmworkers don't have health insurance and don't visit medical doctors. Some, particularly those who hail from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Castillo said, rely on home remedies, putting their health at still greater risk.
Sylvia Chi, policy director with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, spoke about her constituency's concern about the future.
“How do we deal with labor market displacement from phasing out fossil fuels?” she asked. “We need to transition all communities.”
Transition in farming
A large part of UC Cooperative Extension research and extension targets the agricultural industry, which joins other industries in emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, resulting in our warming climate. A key part of mitigation is tied in new brands of farming that aim to address these issues: climate-smart, emergent, sustainable, regenerative and conservation farming.
A component of all these farming philosophies is soil health. Improving soil health traps more carbon underground, where it can't immediately escape into the atmosphere and contribute to increasing warming. Improving soil health has co-benefits, such as improving soil fertility, water infiltration and yield.
The CDFA Healthy Soils grant program offers financial incentives to eligible farmers for implementing soil-building practices. CDFA provided UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), UCCE's parent organization, with $1 million to hire climate-smart educators to provide technical assistance to farmers applying for Healthy Soils and SWEEP grants to improve their irrigation systems, plant cover crops, eliminate or reduce tilling, and implement other practices. A target in their effort is helping underprivileged farmers determine eligibility and navigate the complicated application process.
UC ANR hired nine community education specialists, who are now working with farmers in Mendocino, Merced, Glenn, Yolo, Solano, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Kern, Ventura, San Diego and Imperial counties. Their contributions to farmers in those areas go beyond the grant applications and reach farmers that can't take advantage of CDFA grant programs.
“Because this is a new program, we have the luxury of helping figure out our role,” said Britta Baskerville, the community education specialist in Mendocino County. “We're all coming up with ways to educate farmers in climate-smart practices.”
Climate change resilience
The UC ANR Infomatics and GIS Program is supporting climate change resilience by creating an online networking platform for local governments, such as city councils and boards of supervisors, to empower their communities' resiliency efforts. Called the California Resiliency Alliance, the resources include case studies, planning guides, incident maps, and weather watches, warnings and advisories, plus a platform for sharing information across public-private sectors and across industry sectors.
IGIS is also involved is gathering peer-reviewed data sets for downscale climate projections. UC Berkeley Ph.D. student Lucy Andrews is conducting interviews to identify climate needs and social vulnerability information. The information will make the state's Cal-Adapt website, the primary repository of knowledge about the California climate of the future, an even more useful tool.
“Our strategy is to make climate data accessible,” said Andy Lyons, IGIS statewide program coordinator. “People can get climate data and decision support tailored to specific audiences.”
Diversity in the UC California Naturalist program
California Naturalist's new Climate Stewards Initiative, which will provide training to extend information about climate change mitigation, resilience and adaptation, is being created with diversity, inclusion and equity woven in from the outset. Trainees will learn about psychology, sociological and cognitive sciences, in addition to the hard sciences that touch climate change – meteorology, physics, natural resource management and biology.
“The certified climate stewards will be able to communicate and work with others as to how climate change will affect them. It will be an ongoing social learning community that provides a transition from a sense of helplessness to a sense of empowerment,” said Sarah-Mae Nelson, the UC Climate Stewards Initiative academic coordinator.
Traditional CalNat certification courses are provided fully in-person and partially outdoors. Climate Stewards training will be available in a hybrid online/in-person format to increase the course's availability to a wider circle of community members.
“The flexibility will increase accessibility,” Nelson said.
(Published Oct. 17, 2019)
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In addition to direct economic outputs, working landscapes – farms, rangelands, forests and fisheries, to name a few – sequester carbon, capture water, support wildlife, offer picturesque views and make space for hiking, skiing, boating and other recreational activities.
“We need to put a value to ecosystem services, from an economic standpoint, that incentivizes people who own and manage these landscapes so they can continue to manage them for everyone's benefit,” said Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisor in Sonoma County.
When ecosystem services have been monetized, proper compensation can be calculated, ensuring benefits like clean water, fresh air and a livable climate are protected for future generations.
In November, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources released a report at the California Economic Summit in Fresno on the value of California's working landscapes. The report determined the state's working landscapes generate $333 billion in annual sales and 1.5 million jobs. That number does not include ecosystem services.
“The value of ecosystem services is probably higher than the $333 billion direct economic contribution of working landscapes outlined in the report,” said Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources. Humiston is chair of the economic summit's working landscape task force. “The problem is, when we don't have that quantified, it's hard to make investments to make sure those ecosystem services are maintained.”
Humiston said that, in time, systems can be developed for the public to support the ecosystem services they enjoy.
“You might have a small surcharge on binoculars,” she said. “That money could be used to protect bird habitat so birders can go somewhere to see birds. Water districts might assess a surcharge on your water bill to pay for the forested watersheds where they are getting your water. There are many different mechanisms to do this. We're trying to figure out what would be the best mechanism.”
During the summit, a team of researchers, policymakers and industry professionals launched a new phase of work to calculate with scientific accuracy the value of ecosystem services. Larson is a member of the leadership team, along with executive director of the Central Valley Partnership Dan O'Connell and Sequoia Riverlands Trust director of pubic planning and policy Adam Livingston.
The team is working with partners to secure funding and technical support to integrate data sets already available from the Council of Governments' Rural-Urban Connections Strategy into an open source, statewide system for mapping ecosystem services.
Once the tool is established, the team will be ready to pilot test it in four areas of California that provide ecosystem services.
“I love this concept,” said Kenny Spain, economic development specialist with the Headwaters Fund in Humboldt County and a member of the task force. “It's a valuable tool.”
View a 4-minute video of UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston announcing the release of the report, California's Working Landscape: A Key Contributor to the State's Economic Vitality, at the 2019 California Economic Summit.
View California Governor Gavin Newsom's keynote address at the 2019 California Economic Summit:
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