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Why you should care about the California drought

I used to absolutely love flying home to California. It was magical to see flat cornfields of the Midwest suddenly become a view of vast oceans, lively mountains and healthy pine trees. But recently I stopped fighting for the window seat when I fly home, not wanting to be reminded of how absolutely depressing it is to travel West these days. Now travelling home means confronting the sad, dry, brown, drought.

According to the California Water Science Center, the notorious California drought is now in its fifth year. The U.S. Geological Survey states that the drought is already negatively impacting agriculture, hydropower production, navigation, recreation, as well as the homes of many aquatic species. The USGS also predicts that in the coming years, we can expect land subsidence, seawater intrusion, and serious damage to ecosystems.

So, why should Beloiters care? A handful of students frequently spend time in California, such as Kirsten Tuck‘17, who commented on her disappointment with the drought: “I lived in Westwood, California this summer and the drought was extremely sad. All of the lawns were completely brown and dried out, with the exception of Beverly Hills homes. The drought is already affecting everyone but there is also a really unfortunate disproportionate impact that’s extremely obvious when you go from a wealthy neighborhood to a poorer neighborhood.” If people such as Tuck who spend time in California for only a brief couple of months out of the year are able to see the affects of the drought, imagine the reality that people in marginalized communities are living.

According to a Washington Post article, the rural poor, especially Latino communities in the San Joaquin valley, are being hit much harder by the drought than the typical Westwood, California resident who simply has to let their lawn dry out. Thousands of people in this area haven’t been able to regularly launder their clothes or wash their dishes because of their dangerously minimal access to water. This reality has impacted health and prevented many individuals from going to school and work. If you care about environmental justice, you should care about the California drought.

It is easy for those who are unaffected by this issue to ignore it. Many remain unconcerned. We’ve had bigger things to worry about, right? If that were ever true, it isn’t anymore. The impacts of the drought in California will only become increasingly harder to ignore. We must pay attention now. Our behaviors on the Beloit College campus matter, and here’s why.

UCLA scientists recently published a study in Scientific Reports stating that the most recent California drought is directly linked to global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions rather than simply unlucky weather patterns. Lead scientist Glen MacDonald stated that because greenhouse gases are unlikely to be reduced quickly, California may remain in a drought for centuries to come.

Let us not forget that California is the leading agricultural state in the U.S. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, this state produces 80 percent of the world’s almond supply, 99 percent of the country’s walnuts, 99 percent of artichokes, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 96 percent of olives, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, 69 percent of carrots, and the list goes on. Do you like fruit? Do you like nuts? I do. This means that we better start paying attention to the drought 2,000-plus miles from here.

While innovations in technology and engineering may allow California’s agricultural production to continue, productivity and supply will undoubtedly take a big hit, causing fruits and vegetable prices to rise significantly. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, we can expect fresh fruit and vegetable prices to rise by 2 percent by the year 2017. Keeping in mind that the economic impacts of the drought are often delayed and the drought has no signs of subsiding anytime soon, we should anticipate even higher percentage raises in the years to come. Do you want to eat healthy food without that awful feeling of buyer’s remorse due to overspending your weekly budgeted amount? I do. This means that we must be mindful of the connection this drought has to global climate change, the actions we take on a daily basis, as well as the food security and health of everyone in this country.

So what can we do right now, right here?

— Be mindful of your everyday water use. Turn off the faucet while you are brushing your teeth, take shorter showers, and let the yellow mellow instead of flushing the toilet every single time. These are vital behaviors  for Californians, and important habits to form regardless of location.

­­— Think twice about consumng walnuts and almonds. These products made in California require a lot of water.

­— Don’t buy bottled water. It’s wasteful anyway, but did you know that Aquafina, Dasani, Nestle, Arrowhead, and Crystal Geyser are all companies that bottle Calif. water? Don’t dwindle the state’s already limited water supply.

— Make your own garden or join one, like BUG.

— Take steps to reduce your carbon footprint, since this drought is linked to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Turn off lights, use personal vehicles less, unplug utilities when they are not in use, reuse plastic bags and food containers, be creative.

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