The California Drought: “A Stark Warning of Things to Come”

This is what California looked like on January 13 in 2013 and 2014. You’ll notice things have changed.

This image compares January 13, 2013 and January 13, 2014 snow cover as seen by the Suomi NPP satellite’s VIIRS instrument. CREDIT: NASA/NOAA

I live here, so this morning I listened as Governor Jerry Brown delivered his annual State of the State address. He described the drought as cause for long-term concern:

We do not know how much our current problem derives from the build-up of heat-trapping gasses, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come. The United Nations Panel on Climate Change says – with 95 percent confidence – that human beings are changing our climate. This means more droughts and more extreme weather events, and, in California, more forest fires and less snow pack.

I’ve written in the past about how climate scientists cannot pin single weather events on climate change. But what we do know for certain is that it causes more extreme extremes. This means we can expect regions with hot temperatures will get hotter, wet places will get wetter, storms will get more intense, and dry areas will get drier–all around the world.

During the current California drought emergency, we have seen heat records broken and critically low reservoirs. As the governor pointed out this morning, this is no longer an anomaly. Instead, it’s a glimpse into the future.

A Look At Our (Mostly) Independent Energy Future

In my last post, I described how the past eight US presidents pledged to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. None have succeeded yet… but by the time President Obama leaves office, oil imports will be lower than when he arrived, but as I previously explained, it’s not all because of his administration.*

Now let’s build on that by taking a look at the EIA’s projection on total energy production and consumption into the future:


U.S. dependency on foreign oil has been decreasing–and that trend is projected to continue over the coming decades. And it’s not just due to the rise in domestic natural gas production. More efficient energy technologies along with rising energy prices have concurrently reduced demand.

The result? EIA expects a 4 percent net import share of total U.S. energy consumption by 2040! And that 4 percent isn’t likely going to need to travel very far. For example, consider America’s ‘foreign’ oil suppliers in 2012: Our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, provided well over 1/3 of imports alone. For comparison, we received 13 percent from Saudi Arabia and just 6 percent from Iraq.

The United States is looking a lot more energy independent in the years to come. And that’s a good thing.


* Government policies since the 1970s funded advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (already available since the 1930s and 1950s respectively). Later, high gas prices provided market incentives to locate new wells on private lands utilizing these technologies. Most recently, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 excluded hydraulic fracturing from underground injection regulations. It’s a rare instance in which markets, government, and technology worked together with a common goal. And succeeded.