President Obama, during a tour of California's drought-torn agricultural central valley, tied the state's dry spell – one of the worst in recent years – to climate change and said extreme weather patterns are only going to get worse unless the country reduces its carbon emissions.
“A change in climate means that weather-related disaster like droughts, wild fires, storms and floods are potentially going to be harsher and costlier,” Obama said during his remarks at an asparagus and almond farm in Los Banos, Calif.
Obama had just toured a water irrigation facility nearby and held a roundtable on the drought with Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Jim Costa, a third-generation California farmer who represents nearby Fresno.
The president was in California to announce a new round of executive actions aimed at combating the state's drought, including the expedition of $100 million in assistance for livestock producers, $60 million in food-bank funding for families affected by the drought, and another $15 million for the areas around the country most severely harmed by dry conditions.
On a broader level, the president used the trip to California's Central Valley, known as the breadbasket of the world for the amount of produce grown there and shipped worldwide, to urge leaders to do more to fight climate change.
As part of the budget he is required to submit to Congress each year, he said he will call for a $1 billion “climate resilience fund” — a proposal that is likely dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House.
“Water politics in California have always been complicated...,” he said. “But scientific evidence shows that a change in climate is gong to make [severe weather] more intense.”
Changing temperatures influence drought in at least three ways, he said.
More rain falls in extreme downpours and more water is lost in the run-off; there's less snow and ice packs in the mountains, so rivers run dry earlier in the year; and soil and reservoirs lose more water to evaporation.
“Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution ... this trend is going to get worse,” he said. “The planet is slowly going to keep warming for a long time to come.”
While snow and frigid temperatures have battered much of the nation in recent weeks, California is in the midst of what analysts are calling its worst drought in a century.
After his remarks Friday evening, Obama heades to Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan and an extended holiday weekend.
Obama has made climate change a centerpiece of his second-term agenda, tapping the Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon emissions from power plants — one of his most controversial executive actions.
On a smaller scale, Obama recently launched the creation of “climate hubs” to study how volatile weather conditions are affecting the agriculture industry.