California Environmental Issues

Earth Day, celebrated Friday, April 22, across the globe, reminds us of the fragile state of our planet.

From land contaminated with toxic chemicals to bad air spewed into the atmosphere, most of us have been affected by pollution in some way.

To bring all of this closer to home, we’re listing the 10 most critical environmental problems in Southern California. Some are very recent; some have been going on for decades. But all are still relevant today. Especially today, when we turn our attention to the air, land, water and inhabitants of planet Earth.

1. Global Climate Change: While some parts of the country have experienced extreme weather, such as colder winters and massive flooding, the West has experienced hotter temperatures and unusually warmer winters these past several years. An overwhelming majority of scientists say man-made emissions, including carbon dioxide — produced from the burning of fossil fuels — become trapped in the atmosphere causing a heat or greenhouse effect.

Last year was the hottest year on Earth since record keeping began in 1880, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. February and March were even hotter than that mark.

The temperature rise in March was the 11th month in a row of record-breaking heat.

“It is a steady warming, with no evidence of change in the long term, ” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told our sister newspaper, The Mercury News in January.

Overall, the planet’s temperature has risen about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th Century. While California’s four-year drought was not caused by climate change, researchers from NASA and Columbia University said it aggravated the situation by causing more water evaporation and thereby making the state’s drought about 20 percent worse.

On Friday, nearly 160 nations are expected to sign an accord agreeing to cut greenhouse gases. The goal is to keep the global temperature from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, measured since before industrialization.

2. Porter Ranch gas leak: What many may not know that the Aliso Canyon gas fields are not just a place where methane is pulled from the ground. It is a place where natural gas is stored after being injected into the ground. With 115 wells, it is one of four underground natural gas storage facilities operated by Southern California Gas Co.

About 100, 000 tons of methane leaked out of the underground storage field, the largest natural gas leak disaster in the United States, according to researchers with University of California, Irvine. Enough gas leaked every day for nearly four months starting in October 2015 to fill a balloon the size of the Rose Bowl, experts said. About 6, 000 residents were relocated after many complained of headaches, nosebleeds and vomiting. SoCalGas said experts agree there are no long-term health effects.

The next question is: Can Aliso Canyon be reopened as a gas-storage facility? A new report says without that capacity, there may be a shortage of natural gas to power generators that produce electricity, potentially causing scattered blackouts this summer. Meanwhile, an old gas field in Montebello had six new leaks found at the same time Aliso Canyon was leaking; all were repaired. SoCalGas pulls 1 million cubic feet of natural gas from residual supplies and 100 barrels of oil every day from Montebello, despite a closure order issued 15 years ago.

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