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Schwarzenegger says California must prepare for warming

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Karl Mondon / Contra Costa Times / NEWSCOM / FILE

(Read caption) The waters of the Bay lap against the San Francisco shoreline. Researchers say that melting glaciers and thermal expansion caused by global warming has caused the sea level at the Golden Gate to rise more than seven inches in the past century.

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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has directed state agencies to prepare for the impacts of global warming – particularly rising sea levels – on the state's economy, water supply, and natural resources.

In an executive order signed on Friday, Governor Schwarzenegger called for a comprehensive "Climate Adaptation Strategy" that would identify the state's vulnerabilities and plan accordingly. To do so, the state will request a report from the National Academy of Sciences on the impact of rising sea levels on California's coastlines. State agencies will take this report into account – due in December 2010 – when planning new infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and water treatment facilities.

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"We have to adapt the way we work and plan in order to manage the impacts and challenges that California and our entire planet face from climate change," said Schwarzenegger in a press release. "Given the serious threat of sea level rise to California's water supply, population and our economy, it's critically important that we make sure the state is prepared when heavy rains cause flooding and the potential for sea level rise increases in future years."

The executive order noted that the country's longest continuously operating sea level gauge, San Francisco Bay's Fort Point, recorded a seven-inch rise in sea level over the 20th century. The UN climate change panel predicts that global sea levels will rise by 10 to 23 inches this century, with some experts predicting a larger increase.

The order came a day after the release of a University of California, Berkeley, study that found that $2.5 trillion of the Golden State's $4 trillion worth of real estate is threatened by rising sea levels, wildfires, and extreme weather caused by a warming planet.

Even if fossil fuel emissions were to stop today, greenhouse gases would remain in the atmosphere for decades, where they would continue to contribute to global warming. Schwarzenegger's order reflects an acknowledgment that a comprehensive climate-change strategy must embrace both mitigation and adaptation.

The New York Times notes that other jurisdictions, including Florida, Maryland, and New York City, are taking into account the impacts of climate change.

The order may be the country’s most sweeping in pushing state agencies for concrete plans, but it is not alone in its examination of the problem. In April 2007, Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Democrat, established a climate change task force with the assignment of determining how to reduce the state’s emission of greenhouse gases and assessing its vulnerabilities.
Washington State agencies have also been sketching out plans for anticipating a rise in the sea level, including raising the height of the wharves at the Port of Tacoma.

Tuesday, Schwarzenegger will convene a two-day global summit on climate change in Beverly Hills. More than 600 environmental activists and officials from around the world will attend, as well as five US governors and several foreign politicians.