Silicon Valley Faces Effects of Climate Change

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Facebook's campus by San Francisco Bay

When we talk about tech companies here at TreeHugger, it's usually in the context of what they're doing to protect or harm the environment. Issues like energy efficient data centers, toxic materials, repairability, emissions reductions and recycling, but today, technology and the environment are meeting in a totally different way.

A story from ClimateWire published last week has shown how the biggest names in tech are facing climate change right out their back doors. Companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Dell, LinkedIn, Intuit, Intel, Cisco, Citrix, Oracle and others all have headquarters situated in Silicon Valley and this hot spot for tech companies is also becoming a hot spot for sea level rise.

Situated 3 to 10 feet below sea level, Silicon Valley is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

As the article reports, Facebook's headquarters beside San Francisco Bay "is pretty much surrounded by tidal waters," said Eric Mruz, manager of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is right next to Facebook's site.

"Facebook is going to have to deal with sea level rise," Mruz said. "It's going to be a huge threat, with sea level rise projections skyrocketing now. They will definitely have to do something with their levees to protect their property."

Facebook's property currently contains an 8-foot levee to hold back the tides, but researchers say those won't be enough since it's predicted that seas will climb as much as 16 inches by midcentury and 65 inches by 2100 with more intense and frequent storms occurring too. The Army Corp of Engineers conducted a study that found that a large storm coupled with sea level rise could easily top the levees around Silicon Valley.

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"Starting out, they're already 10 feet below sea level," Mruz said. "If they had no levees in place, that water would be miles inland already. Add sea level rise on top of that, you add storm surge on top of that."

"All of these businesses, Silicon Valley basically backs right up to the bay," Mruz added. "You have all of them, Yahoo, Google, all right there. Without some type of flood protection potentially in front of that, you could flood that whole area. You're talking billions of dollars."

So far, the companies have remained quiet on what their plans are, or if they have any, but there is mounting pressure for them to come up with solutions. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has urged companies to partner in raising money for better levees in the region and local business groups are starting to ask for a plan.

But many think that the lack of response from the tech companies so far has to do with the nature of their business, which revolves around the short-term, not the long-term.

"When you talk about a 50-year time horizon in terms of sea level rise, people's eyes sort of glaze over because that's too long for planning," said Mike Mielke, vice president for environmental programs and policy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, adding that most businesses don't strategize more than five years out.

But if a company will need to relocate, 50 years isn't all that long. The Army Corp of Engineers found that 257 companies were in areas that were considered significant risk, which means that a severe storm in 50 years could inundate the properties. Some of the companies in the highest risk category include Yahoo, Fujitsu, Infinera and Texas Instruments.

Tags: Global Warming Effects | Technology