As a former constituent of yours from San Luis Obispo County, I am writing to you, the current House Majority Leader, to express my concerns regarding the impact of climate change on the Central Coast of California in the past year.
In February of last year, we experienced a storm with heavy rain and extremely strong winds that downed so many trees, closing so many roads, that I was unable to reach my house without slogging through mud in the dark. Schools were evacuated, state parks were closed due to storm damage, Amtrak trains couldn't run so my son couldn't get home from UCSB, and my home was without water and power for five days.
December 2017 brought us the Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in California history. The Ventura home we designed, built, and once lived in, burned to the ground alongside the neighboring homes. Relatives and friends also lost homes or had to deal with multiple evacuations. The fire burned two of my previous residences and came within 250 feet of burning down a third. The Thomas Fire followed the Tubbs Fire in October in Santa Rosa, which killed 40-plus people and burned more than 7,500 homes. Records show that wildfires in California are becoming more frequent and severe and fire season is lasting longer.
Then the Central Coast experienced the devastating mudslides in Montecito—a result of the Thomas Fire. Family members evacuated, friends and family were stranded due to impassible roadways. Several of my employees were unable to get to their jobs and were unable to work, affecting our income. A doctor that I knew, as well as his daughter, died, along with 19 other victims. Two people are still missing and presumed dead. Highway 101 was closed for nearly two weeks.
In October, San Luis Obispo set a new all-time record of 114 degrees, and for the first time ever parts of the county had more than 30 days of 100-plus degree temperatures. When we built our house in 1990, there was no need for air conditioning. Cut to 2017, and we just spent a lot of money to install air conditioning in our home.
My son recently went on a long-awaited Cal Poly Engineering ski trip to Tahoe, but they didn't ski. Why? Because there was not enough snow. In the middle of January, the peak of the winter sports season, the snowpack was a fraction of normal. China Peak, the closest ski area to Bakersfield, is closed due to lack of snow. This condition is causing huge losses for winter sports businesses that depend on snow. California is continuing to face drought conditions, which will again impact farmers in the Central Valley. You should recognize that it's mainly your constituency taking the financial hit for these weather-related catastrophes, not your financial backers.
You do not accept the scientific consensus on climate change, you opposed President Obama's Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, and you opposed the international agreement on climate change. I have watched you support Republican efforts to undo environmental regulations. You graduated with an MBA from CSU Bakersfield, so I assume you have learned critical thinking. You have two children, as do I, and I would hope that you want to leave a cleaner, healthier planet for them and your future grandchildren. Instead, I see you making it easier for companies to exploit and pollute the environment.
Your legacy of denial and inaction will forever taint your reputation and how history views your actions while in office. Your legacy as a Republican will be that as a man who cared more about appeasing your wealthy donors than doing what will benefit your constituents.
I suggest you look at the cost of extreme weather to the United States' economy. In 2017, there were 16 extreme weather events causing more than $1 billion in damage. The expense of cleaning up after hurricanes in Florida and Texas, wildfires in California, floods in the Midwest and California, tornadoes and drought is growing. That should get your attention, but instead your priorities are giving tax breaks to the wealthy, when we could be spending those dollars on infrastructure and natural disasters.
I'm 65 years old and have lived in California my whole life. This year has been a series of unprecedented events: I've never had a house I lived in burn down. I've never known anyone who died in a mudslide. I've never had relatives and friends endure repeated evacuations. I've never gone without water and power for more than a few hours, much less five days. I've never not been able to drive up the road to my house because of fallen trees. Highway 101 through the Central Coast has never been closed and totally impassable for days on end. All of these things happened to me or my family and friends in less than a year. These are all weather-related firsts, and I don't believe they are coincidental.
I would like to share a Neil deGrasse Tyson quote with you: "When you have people who don't know much about science standing in denial of it, and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy."
When (not if) scientists are proven to be correct about human activity causing climate change, our children and grandchildren are going to look to our generation's actions and assign blame to those who were put on notice and chose not to act. As majority leader, you will be fairly assigned blame.
You have the opportunity to choose a different path. There are more important things than winning elections—namely, your children and their children. They are the ones who will pay the price. Please make your decisions based on science, not politics. Δ
Sharon McDaniel lives in Arroyo Grande. Send your thoughts through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.