Biden Visits Storm-Ravaged California, Says It's Climate Change In Action

“If anybody doubts the climate is changing, they must have been asleep for the last couple of years,” the president said.

President Joe Biden arrived in California’s Central Coast on Thursday to meet with some of the communities hammered by weeks of torrential rainfall, some of the most intense in the state’s history.

Biden said that the catastrophe is a clear display of climate change in action and shows how severe weather can get in a hotter atmosphere.

“If anybody doubts the climate is changing, they must have been asleep for the last couple of years,” the president said Thursday from Aptos’ Seacliff State Beach, where recent storms have plummeted half of a pier into the ocean, destroyed the seawall and caused about $30 million in damage.

Damage from the storms has been recorded in 41 of the state’s 58 counties, with nine atmospheric rivers since late December collapsing hillsides, downing massive trees, breaking levees, washing away roads, knocking out power, forcing evacuations and flooding residences.

“Extreme weather caused by climate change means stronger and more frequent storms, more intense droughts, longer wildfire seasons ― all of which threaten communities across California,” Biden said. “So we have to invest in a stronger infrastructure to lessen the impact of these disasters because they become cumulative, in a sense.”

A pier that collapsed in the storm is visible behind Biden as he speaks in Aptos, California, on Jan. 19, 2023. He called the severe weather that impacted the state climate change in action.
A pier that collapsed in the storm is visible behind Biden as he speaks in Aptos, California, on Jan. 19, 2023. He called the severe weather that impacted the state climate change in action.
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images

Thousands of homes may be tagged as uninhabitable, an official told The Associated Press this week. As of Thursday, the storms have claimed 21 lives, and 5,000 people are still without power.

Though the state had a reprieve from the heavy downpours in recent days, light rainfall in the forecast is still a serious threat on such saturated land.

Coastal communities, like the ones Biden visited today, are among those hit the hardest. Some roads there may take weeks to clear and months to repair fully. In Santa Cruz County, where Biden delivered his remarks Thursday, roads have been washed into the ocean, and residents say the waves crashing ashore are some of the biggest they’ve ever seen. The cost of damage in that county alone is currently estimated at around $55 million.

The federal government has promised to cover 100% of the cost of removing debris and other emergency costs, such as sheltering people and paying first responders for overtime work, for the next 60 days, Biden reminded the crowd in Aptos on Thursday.

Farmers and ranchers who saw crops and livestock washed away by the storms are also eligible for low-interest loans and grants to rebuild, Biden said.

Biden and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who spoke before the president, said they’re maintaining hope that search and rescue teams can find and save 5-year-old Kyle Doan, who was swept away by floodwaters in San Miguel while heading to school with his mother 10 days ago.

Following Biden’s remarks, environmental activists said they want bigger climate commitments from his administration.

“How many more lives must be lost? How many more decimated homes must President Biden and Governor Newsom visit? We are living in a climate emergency, and our elected leaders must take action to protect our communities,” Caroline Henderson, Greenpeace’s senior climate campaigner, said in a statement Thursday, adding: “Last year, President Biden said that he would deal with the climate emergency, but we have seen very little action. It’s time for him to make good on those words by declaring a climate emergency.”

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