The Paris climate agreement, experts agree, is historic, timely, crucially important -- and basically inadequate.
Here in Los Angeles, El Niño is on the way, and can't get here soon enough for all we've been praying for rain, even though we're not prepared, and even though, it won't end our drought.
Welcome to the desert of the real. We'll have to muddle through somehow.
The Paris agreement is a perfectly compromised product. It is based on voluntary agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The stated goal of the agreement is to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and if possible, as low as only 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
A 2-degree warming is considered a threshold beyond which there could be really catastrophic consequences for people and the planet. The 1.5-degree threshold is advocated by island nations that will likely suffer damage from sea level rise if temperatures climb higher. But the voluntary agreements that countries put on the table in Paris would likely result in 3 degrees of warming.
Why a voluntary agreement and not mandatory limits on emissions, as some wished? Well, for starters, mandatory limits would have required that the agreement be ratified by the U.S. Senate. And that's a nonstarter today. Voluntary agreements appealed to many other countries, too.
So we have an imperfect path forward. What else is new?
We have a path forward. And that path is starting to look a lot like the path that California has been on for years, steadily ratcheting down air pollution and carbon emissions, while continuing to be home to some of the worst traffic in the world. It's going to take decades to unsnarl that jam.
Sometimes it's hard to hold these kinds of contradictory thoughts in mind without getting a headache. But we're going to have to get used to it.
Because here comes El Niño, promising a big, possibly record-breaking, wet winter. Water, water everywhere. And we're nowhere near being able to use it, at least here in LA. It's almost all going to wash out to the ocean, after scouring the canyons, bringing hillsides and houses down, and taking out roads and bridges.
We've got big plans for absorbing that water so that we can use it here in LA -- from redesigning the Los Angeles River to landscaping parks, neighborhoods, and individual yards to slow down runoff and let it percolate into the groundwater. There are numerous projects in place, underway, and on the drawing board, but they're just collecting drops in the bucket. Like the Paris accord, the parts don't yet add up to the whole of what we need. It will probably take decades before they do.
Statewide, this could be an epic winter for water. Snow worth celebrating is already accumulating in the Sierra Nevada. This year is very unlikely to be a drought year -- by a long shot, at least meteorologically.
But that doesn't mean that we won't hear over and over again how El Niño won't end California's drought -- our hydrological drought that is. It's going to take more than one wet winter to make up the deficit in reservoirs and groundwater after four dry years.
So in this season of instant gratification, take a moment for long thoughts of the future, raise a glass to Paris and El Niño, and sing along with that familiar refrain:
"Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow.
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow."
Photo of the Eiffel Tower displaying "Don't Give Up" during the Paris climate summit by Yann Caradec. Snapshot of El Niño on 10 December 2015 courtesy of NOAA. For information on how to prepare for this winter, see El Niño: LA.