- Suzanne Goldenberg, Washington
- The Age, February 6, 2009
UNLESS there is timely action on climate change, California's agricultural bounty could be reduced to a dust bowl and its cities disappear, President Barack Obama's Energy Secretary has warned.
The apocalyptic scenario sketched out by Steven Chu was the clearest sign to date of the greening of America's political class under the new President.
In blunt language, Dr Chu said Americans had yet to fully understand the urgency of dealing with climate change.
"We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California. I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going," he told the Los Angeles Times in his first interview since taking the post.
He said raising public awareness was crucial. "I'm hoping that the American people will wake up."
Dr Chu's doomsday descriptions were seen as further evidence that, after eight years of denial under President George Bush, the Obama Administration recognises the severity of climate change.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has blamed climate change for making forest fires a year-round threat in the state.
California's Department of Water Resources said last week the state's snow-pack was at 61 per cent of normal levels. The reduction was especially worrying because of the severely dry spring of 2008, leaving the state with little water in reserve. Two dozen local water agencies have already imposed rationing.
There are heightened concerns about water shortages in the west and upper midwest as well. Earlier this year, the journal Science warned of worldwide crop shortages because of rising temperatures.
Mr Obama ran a presidential campaign pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by the middle of the century. He made his first move to redeem that promise last week when he ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal when Mr Bush was president to allow California and 13 other states to regulate car exhaust emissions.
He also directed the car industry to produce cars that could achieve 35 miles per gallon (14.8 litres per 100 kilometres) by 2020.