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Climate change

To address the immediate and long-term impacts of climate change, several jurisdictions in the region have adopted climate action plans including Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Fort Bragg, and Ukiah. Sonoma County’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory shows that 60 percent of the county’s emissions come from the transportation sector.

Building energy use (mainly space heating and cooling) additionally accounts for 22 percent of emissions. Overall emissions in Sonoma County have been on a decline since 2010, with nearly every contributor decreasing emissions except transportation. Emissions from buildings saw the largest drop, likely due to Sonoma Clean Power coming online in 2014. Data was not available for Mendocino County as it has not completed a GHG inventory.

Renewable Energy. Sonoma County is a relatively large contributor of renewable energy among California counties, generating 4,804 GWh, or 7.5 percent of the state’s total renewable production, primarily from geothermal sources. Mendocino is a much smaller contributor, generating only 45 GWh, mainly from small hydropower systems, and solar photovoltaic.

Vulnerabilities. Low-income households face economic vulnerabilities and reduced capacity to adapt to climate change. The Centers for Disease Control’s Social Vulnerability Index assigns Mendocino County a high vulnerability index of 0.88 (out of 1), a metric driven primarily by the above-average number of over-65 and single-parent households in the county.

Climate change has already had severe and catastrophic economic and social impacts on the region, including the following:

Sea level rise is contributing to more flooding in low-lying areas, issues in the area’s harbors, and major infrastructure issues.

Wildfires in recent years in Sonoma and Mendocino counties have resulted in mass evacuations, lost lives, and property damage. Several large fires have burned through urban areas of the region. These fires threaten and impact businesses and lives and the resulting smoke has significant impacts on the quality of life and people’s health in the entire region.      

  • The August Complex (2017) burned a total of 1,032,648 acres or 1% of California's 100 million acres of land.
  • The Tubbs Fire (2017) took 22 lives and destroyed 4,658 homes and 1,000 commercial structures. The Tubbs Fire burned over 36,800 acres.
  • The Redwood Fire (2017) burned 36,523 acres, destroyed 543 structures, and killed nine people.
  • The Mendocino Complex Fire (2018) burned a total of 459,123 acres, destroyed 280 structures, and caused over $257 million in damages.
  • The Nuns Fire (2019) burned 56,556 acres, killed three people, and destroyed 1,355 buildings, including 639 homes.
  • The Pocket Fire (2020) destroyed three homes and burned 17,357 acres and the Glass Fire (2020) destroyed 334 homes, while the Walbridge and Meyers Fires destroyed 298 structures, including 150 residences. In total, these fires killed 34 people, destroyed over 8,000+ structures, and burned over 1,700,000 acres.

Drought has severely impacted the region’s agricultural and tourism economies, with towns like Mendocino completely running dry and others on severe water restrictions under declared water emergencies.

Implications: Fires and droughts are a critical ongoing threat to the region’s economy, housing, and livability. Investment in sustainable infrastructure and resiliency is necessary for our economic survival and growth. We also need to build more fire resiliency into our wildlands/urban interface areas.