Just before the holiday rush, I had an opportunity to speak with two leading voices on climate change. As we look ahead to 2017, what they had to say about California’s important role in the discussion may surprise you.

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus

This self-termed “climate hawk” and science writer reports for Slate’s Future Tense and is a former Wall Street Journal columnist. Holthaus also co-hosts the ourwarmregards podcast, which focuses on climate science. If you haven’t listened, you should. It’s become one of my favorites.

Eric Holthaus
Eric Holthaus (credit E. Holthaus)

Q) What do you think we might see in California vis-a-vis climate and ag in 2017?

Holthaus: In 2017 –  as it has been for decades, if not always – it will be about water. The real question for me now that the big El Niño year has passed is this: will the gains made in California on conserving water linger into an era where we may have more rainfall?

It’s important not to lose sight of the larger picture…it will likely become drier and warmer in our lifetime. Warmer temperatures precipitate drought even with the same amount of rainfall. Demonstrating continued progress on water conservation in California should be a top priority.

Q) What challenges might scientists face under a Trump administration?

Holthaus: It’s important to try to preserve the gains of recent years. Scientists in California can do a lot that has global benefits; that work will continue under a Trump administration. The University of California is well positioned to be a global leader. The institution [UC] can do the kind of work we do without interference from the federal government.

I’d say the role of California is even more important under a Trump administration if funding for climate science goes away on the federal level. Countries around the world rely on science produced in the U.S. and the data sets coming out from the U.S. are sort of an anchor of the global climate science effort. So working to be advocates for science, being good scientists and doing the same thing people have always done is more important than ever.

Climate Adaptation Specialist Dr. Tapan Pathak

Dr. Tapan Pathak

 Climate change and adaptation science are of vital importance to California agriculture, so I was delighted to speak with researcher Dr. Tapan Pathak, who works as a climate adaptation specialist with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. Pathak also is on faculty at UC Merced and is affiliated with UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute.

Q) What do you see as priorities/key issues for 2017 in California and beyond?

Pathak: Current changes in climate and projected changes in future climate pose many challenges for California agriculture. It is important to prioritize our efforts to minimize climate risks and enhance agriculture’s capacity to support food security in a sustainable manner.

Q) Will we be hearing more about climate smart ag? 

Pathak: Climate smart agriculture is a very broad terminology and is not universally defined.

In general, climate smart agriculture integrates sustainable agricultural productivity, adaptation to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation). It is an important approach towards sustainable solutions and we can expect to hear more and more about this as we move forward.

Q) What research projects are you working on?

Pathak: We recently formed a UC ANR climate change program team with the objective to work collaboratively to prioritize and address climate research needs.

I’m also involved with UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative. As part of that, our team is developing a UC ANR Curriculum on climate change and sustainability. We are working with 20 UC ANR academics across five strategic initiatives to help them incorporate climate change and sustainability into various existing and new Extension programs for various clientele groups.

I’m working as part of a collaborative research project to bridge the gaps between almond growers’ climate information needs and climate model outputs. We are developing decision support materials tailored to those needs. We have a graduate student in Extension – Kripa Jagannathan from UC Berkeley – who is working on this project. Our other partners are the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the USDA California climate hub.

I am always evaluating projected changes in growth stages of California’s specialty crops, at various time scales under climate change. This is a work in progress.


UC Davis has launched Climate-Smart: Stories of Food, Farmer and Solutions. This is a magazine-style multimedia project, which shares stories about how agriculturalists and researchers are adapting to a changing climate.

This piece tells the story of Chertai Xiong, an immigrant from Laos who farms outside Fresno, in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

You may also want to read about UC Merced researcher Elliott Campbell, who maps the potential of urban agriculture and the local food movement.

Professor Mario Sifuentez, a historian who is also on faculty at UC Merced, teaches students about the food system. Read our Q&A with him. His work is part of UC’s Global Food Initiative, which seeks to address one of the most compelling issues of our time…how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population. Learn more here.

Have a great week!