ICNV’s series on climate change began in June with an article that illustrated how Irvine’s past activism on an issue of global importance — destruction of the atmosphere’s ozone layer — helped provoke a worldwide solution to the problem.  Subsequent articles have explained that although the climate crisis is global, it’s time to act locally, especially since the national outlook under the Trump administration and Congress appears so poor.  But, as science writer Ed Sharman notes, the effects of climate change are no mystery — they are now observable by facts in our everyday lives.

— Harvey H. Liss, Ph.D., ICNV editor for Science & Technology

Global Warming in Irvine: Now, It’s Personal!


For quite some time, global warming — although real enough — seemed to me to be a rather abstract and far-off threat, both in time and space.  Okay, I get it!  Glaciers melt and turn into gully-washers; the Arctic Ocean ice is melting; and U.S. forests from the Rockies, west, are dying from heat stress and beetles.  But otherwise, the ‘bad stuff’ won’t be much in evidence close by until my grandchildren are grown.  Move on.

As a matter of fact, global warming has lately become very up-front and personal for me, with real, immediate and expensive consequences.

Global warming’s first impact in my life was merely a fun observation from my backyard.  Back in the 1980s, the coral tree there regularly lost its leaves for a couple of months in the winter (during which time a dusting of frost on the lawn or my neighbor’s roof occasionally appeared in the early morning, as well).  Now my coral tree is an evergreen!  In some years, the leaves are sparser in the winter, but the branches are never truly bare, and frost is a distant memory.  Benign enough events, but I should have recognized them as a serious wakeup call!

First Consequence

The first high-impact consequence came just recently.  My house came without mechanical air conditioning, and all through the 1980s, 90s and 00s I used to joke that “my air conditioner is the Pacific Ocean.”  And in truth, the onshore ocean breezes kept my Irvine house perfectly comfortable.  Later, however, it seemed that there were longer and longer periods when the house felt a bit too warm, but still sufferable.  The breaking point came two summers ago when it became too hot to sleep even with no sheets on for a solid two weeks or so — a veritable eternity!  So, at a cost of thousands of dollars, I installed air conditioning, and — pained by much higher electric bills — now find it necessary to use it 1-2 months out of the year.

Second Consequence

A second big-consequence event occurred last year.  Many years ago, I acquired a couple of acres of nicely forested land in the Sierra foothills with the idea of possibly building a vacation home there.  The tall, prime-of-life ponderosa and sugar pines were gorgeous, and so cool to walk under, especially in summer!  Imagine my shock upon receiving notice from the electric company that some of these trees had died and would have to be removed.  A short time later a neighbor sent me a horrifying photo showing that all my pines had died within the last year, along with a polite inquiry as to what I intended to do.

Well, I consoled myself, “At least I’ll be able to salvage the trees for lumber or firewood and probably break-even cost-wise.”  Then, the reality of “western pine forests in the U.S. are dying,” hit home: loggers and tree-cutters are overwhelmed with dead and dying pines; there’s no market for my wood and it would have to be trucked off to a (gasp) landfill, at a very substantial cost.

I truly hope you’re lucky, and global warming does no more than induce your once-deciduous tree to provide shade all year ‘round, as mine now does.  But be forewarned by my experience: sooner rather than later, the consequences of climate change in your own life may be much more impactful and costly than you expect!

Ed Sharman

Ed Sharman holds a Ph.D. in chemical physics from USC, and is currently engaged in research on ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) at UCI in the Department of Neurology. Previously, Dr. Sharman worked in industry developing industrial gas analyzers and control equipment that improved combustion energy efficiency, with the added benefit of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. He has been an Irvine resident since 1981.
Ed Sharman