The crystal ball isn't 100 percent clear, but a recent study forecasts a disturbing picture of what San Diego County could look like in 2050 if the region does not take immediate action to combat climate change.
The San Diego Foundation Regional Focus 2050 Study released last week is a comprehensive assessment of climate change impacts on the county, conducted by more than 40 of the region's foremost experts.
"We need to know what our vulnerabilities to climate change are so we can determine where best to invest our finances, time and effort to develop measures to reduce those vulnerabilities," said Emily Young, the foundation's environmental director.
The report was designed to serve as a scientific basis to prepare for the future and as a catalyst for accelerating action, both at the individual and government level.
If current trends continue, the study estimates temperatures will increase between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That means heat waves and wildfires for inland communities, water and energy shortages.
The combination poses serious impacts, especially on the region's aging population, as well as local habitats and endangered plants and animals, the report says.
The potential consequences along the coast are especially severe, according to the study. Sea level is projected to rise 12 to 18 inches along San Diego's coastline, causing beaches to shrink or disappear completely and floods in low-lying areas.
If the projections hold true, the majority of La Jolla Shores beach will be under water at high tide. Very rare storms could flood parts of Kellogg Parks, some streets and the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.
Del Mar's beach will decrease, and Dog Beach will be completely inundated during moderately common high wave events under the 2050 forecast.
Flooding will significantly damage coastal lagoons and wetlands, including the small wetland just opposite Del Mar's Dog Beach (between the road and the train tracks).
Loss of wetlands
Unable to survive under deep water, what little wetlands remain will have nowhere else to go, and the their critical functions as nurseries and pollution filters will be "severely compromised," Young said.
The study also notes that with more frequent and severe storms and high wave action, fragile bluffs will collapse. Where steep bluffs prevent habitats from retreating, some intertidal marine ecosystems will be completely wiped out, including Cabrillo National Monument and Scripps Coastal Reserve in La Jolla Cove.
News for surfers is not good either. Red tides, with their harmful algae blooms, are expected to increase in frequency.
Call to action
All the alarming forecasts come with one very important bit of good news, Young said. If everyone takes action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we can slow the pace and diminish the severity of these impacts, Young said.
"Each individual needs to look at 'what can I do within our family, and how can I gently persuade my neighbor to make a difference as well?'" said Bill Kuni of La Jolla, the foundation's climate initiative committee chairman.
Individuals can conserve resources to reduce their carbon footprint and urge their local leaders to aggressively pursue climate action planning, Kuni said.
Some cities, like Del Mar and Solana Beach, are already considering climate change in their planning decisions, and a regional climate action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is due out next spring from the San Diego Association of Governments.
Crystal Crawford, deputy mayor of Del Mar, said the report was needed. She added that she is optimistic about the potential for change.
"We're in this together," Crawford said. "All of us need to be doing what we can as soon as we can."