California Dreaming: A SoCal Native on Moving North

I recently flew home for the holidays. Near the end of my short flight I looked out the window and was almost blinded by the billions of sparkling lights that blanketed the city. I was content observing from thousands of feet in the air the slow-moving traffic that clotted the arterial freeways that serve as the tangled lifeline of Los Angeles.

COMM Blog KBpic LA DirtySkyline 2015 01It was bittersweet being back in LA. I was happy to be home, but I had just spent the past month and a half absorbing the beauty of the Sierra Nevada, free from traffic woes and the thick noise, light, and air pollution. The outdoor enthusiast in me felt lucky to have found a home in one of California’s grandest playgrounds; however, I quickly learned that the mountains and rural communities here are faced with issues just as serious as those in a metropolitan hub like Los Angeles.

It is easy to forget how large California is when you live in a place as populous and sprawled out as Southern California. Having grown up around surf, sand, and near perfect weather year-round, snow remained a mystery to me for most of my childhood. I knew that it was great for skiing, but I didn’t understand that the snowpack housed by the Sierra Nevada has served and continues to serve as a natural watershed for the entire state of California.

The rising temperatures of the earth have shortened the winter season decreasing the snowpack, contributing to erosion, and also putting snow-dependent communities out of work. The outstanding drought has made it apparent that the Sierra Nevada snowmelt is the real lifeline of Los Angeles. Additionally, the ever-increasing dry and hot summers have escalated the frequency and magnitude of wildfires. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy estimated the recent Rim Fire that occurred here in the Sierra in August 2013 released 11,353,608 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. I didn’t fully understand the gravity of this number until it was explained to me that the Rim Fire emitted as much CO2 as the entire transportation sector of Los Angeles County over the course of 4 years. If you’ve ever tried to get anywhere around Los Angeles County, you can probably grasp that that must be a lot of CO2…and that’s because it is!

More recently, I’ve been wondering whether or not I should allow myself to be proud that I’m from Los Angeles, especially after realizing how detrimental the consumptive lifestyle I knew has been to California’s environment. However, I am beginning to understand that Los Angeles does have its place in the world, that millions of Angelenos are actively trying to mitigate the damage we’ve all done to the environment to work towards a sustainable future.

I don’t know what the future holds for Los Angeles, nor the Sierra Nevada, but I believe that we can get more meaningful work done if we try to truly connect to one another and understand the world and people around us. If you’re in SoCal, or any of California’s metropolitan areas really, find ways to connect yourself to the source waters of the Sierra Nevada. One way to do so is to get involved with the newly launched Sierra Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Partnership (Sierra CAMP), focusing on bridging the rural and urban divide found in this great state where dreams and big ideas so often become reality.