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What Causes Climate Change?

Climate change is a global environmental and humanitarian emergency with local impacts. Human activity—especially the burning of fossil fuels—is largely responsible for climate change. 


Here in San Diego, transportation contributes to over half of greenhouse gas emissions. This is because we’ve built sprawling, car-centric communities where the majority of families cannot afford to live close to where they work, play, shop, and go to school. This has forced more and more San Diegans to  rely on cars—versus taking transit, biking, or walking—to travel around the region. Alternatives to driving, such as public transit, are limited and not accessible in many communities.


In San Diego, we are experiencing the worsening impacts of the climate emergency: scorching heat waves, the destruction of habitats, brutal droughts, deadly wildfires, and polluted air and water—and all of these threaten our local economy and public health. And, while the climate crisis affects all of us, it impacts communities of color first and worst.

Global Warming

"Global warming” is often used interchangeably with “climate change”. Global warming focuses on earth’s rising surface temperature, which is caused by the greenhouse effect.


Impacts Include:

  • More frequent and severe heat waves, 

  • Increased air pollution.



Definition: Greenhouse Effect (noun):  The greenhouse effect occurs when gases in the atmosphere trap heat and increase global temperatures. 

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How Is The Climate Crisis Impacting San Diego?



The last decade has shattered wildfire records. The climate crisis is increasing temperatures and making water more scarce, creating  a hot and dry climate. We are also experiencing more frequent and severe storms with strong winds and lightning strikes—the perfect conditions for wildfires. More frequent natural disasters are extremely detrimental to San Diego.

Impacts Include:

  • Increased temperatures and dry weather,

  • Heightened frequency and severity of natural disasters like floods, heat waves, and wildfires,

  • Increased drought and extreme heat.

4.2 Million Acres Burned

in California in 2020

Air and Water Pollution

Air and water pollution are some of the most devastating impacts of the climate crisis. Forests, wetlands, our oceans, and other habitats draw down carbon emissions and purify the air. As these habitats are destroyed or harmed, natural carbon sinks are disrupted—increasing air and water pollution.


Some of the most significant contributors to air, land, and water pollution are the transportation, industrial, and agricultural sectors because they release significant amounts of greenhouse gases and harmful chemicals into the environment. San Diego lacks effective green infrastructure, especially stormwater infrastructure. 


Green infrastructure projects—from the preservation of wetlands to stormwater management—enable the environment to catch these pollutants and purify our water and land.  

Impacts Include:

  • Increased health risks, such as asthma and cancer,

  • Decreased accessibility of drinkable water and breathable air,

  • Reduced biodiversity and decaying ecosystems.

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Without proper green infrastructure in place, every storm has the potential to flood our neighborhoods and carry huge amounts of unmitigated pollution to our rivers and beaches.

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Loss of Habitat and Biodiversity

Many environments can’t adapt to changing conditions. Ice-caps are unable to withstand the increasing temperatures and are quickly melting, causing a slow rise in sea-level.


San Diego County is one of the most biodiverse regions in the United States and this biodiversity is threatened by wildfires, extreme heat, drought, and sea-level rise.

Sea-level rise is a pressing problem for coastal regions like San Diego, because it increases flooding, threatens wildlife, contaminates potable water, and could impact the agriculture industry.

San Diego’s sensitive wetland habitats are already struggling under flooding, drought, and extreme weather. Loss of these native plants and animals due to climate change will reduce  biodiversity and pollute our water systems. 

Impacts Include:

  • Decreased wildlife and biodiversity,

  • Threatened stability of our communities,

  • Limited resource availability,

  • Polluted water.

Economic Costs

Climate change burdens us with huge economic costs, but the price of inaction is greater. When discussing the fiscal limits of paying for green infrastructure, implementing legislation, and fighting climate change, we need to be aware of the costs we are already incurring. 


Costs Include:

  • Infrastructure damage due to natural disasters,

  • Prevention and planning for natural disasters and increasing sea-level,

  • Reduced availability of finite natural resources that lead to price surges,

  • Decreased biodiversity that will lead to a decrease in tourism,

  • Increased health issues and healthcare expenses,

  • Decreased habitats suitable for human life,

  • Reduced worker productivity under extreme weather.

Cornerstones of our existing public transit network, like the LOSSAN rail corridor, are not ready for climate impacts, like sea level rise. The LOSSAN rail corridor, which carries over 7 million passengers and $1 billion in goods annually, is precariously situated on top of the bluffs in Del Mar. Due to sea level rise, the bluffs are eroding rapidly, causing regular bluff failures within feet of the tracks. Long-term solutions to adapt to our existing infrastructure in the face of the climate crisis are politically hard and expensive, but absolutely essential.

Disproportionate Impacts

Although we’re all experiencing the impacts of the climate emergency, these impacts are not equally distributed. Communities of color and low-income communities are unjustly burdened with high levels of pollution, without the resources or infrastructure to mitigate this damage.


This is because, throughout history, the United States has consistently sacrificed Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives and land by allowing oil, gas, and other polluting facilities to operate in these communities.


In San Ysidro, our southernmost community, 41% of residents live within 500 feet of a pollution source. Much of this is linked to their extremely close proximity to the San Ysidro-Tijuana border—the busiest land-border crossing in the Western Hemisphere. Here, the asthma rates are 18 times higher than our national average.

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The climate crisis impacts everyone, but it impacts communities of color and low-income communities first and worst which is why we need integrated solutions that fight the climate crisis, center communities of concern, and build a just society with an economy in which everyone can prosper.

Help Win The Climate Solutions Our Communities Need

Humans caused the climate crisis, and only we have the power to stop it. In a preliminary report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that, though some impacts of the climate crisis like sea-level rise will take years to recover from, with immediate action, we can stop temperatures at the current 1.5ºC. The good news is that we have the solutions. 

At Climate Action Campaign, we’re working to stop the climate crisis at the local level through our five fights: 100% clean energy, bikeable-walkable neighborhoods, world-class transit, shade trees, and all-electric buildingsAnd we approach all of this work through the lens of equity and justice because, without racial, economic, and social justice, we can never achieve climate justice. These areas represent our largest sources of emissions as a region and also our greatest opportunities to build healthy, equitable, sustainable, and just communities.


We focus on local solutions that can be replicated at regional, state, and national levels. In 2015, San Diego adopted a 100% clean energy goal, which was then adopted at the state level 2018 and the federal level in 2020.

But we need all hands on deck to make a zero carbon future possible! Click here to join the fight for climate justice.

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