A Bad Day for the Climate, But Hope in the West

, , director, California & Western States | November 7, 2014, 11:58 am EST
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The conventional wisdom following Tuesday’s election is that national action on climate change is likely to be stalled or mired in partisan political wrangling until at least 2016. The long-sought effort to achieve a comprehensive climate law seems unlikely in the foreseeable future, and even administrative action on climate may be held up in federal budget battles and oversight hearings. For those of us dedicated to lowering emissions to a level that prevents the worst consequences of climate change and worried that time is growing short to achieve significant progress, the election results seem like a very discouraging outcome.

But as UCS President Ken Kimmell has pointed out in a post-election blog post, the results do not mean we should be discouraged or stop trying to make progress—we just need to focus our efforts where they are most likely to make progress.

Sunnier outlook on West Coast for climate action

Despite the likelihood of continued, chronic Beltway dysfunction, election news from the West Coast states of California and Oregon is very encouraging. Governors Brown and Kitzhaber, both of whom have made climate action cornerstones of their administrations, coasted to easy re-election. California’s climate–friendly legislature appears to be holding on, and Oregon elected some pro-conservation legislators who may help make climate and clean energy gains in that state a real possibility.

Mt Hood

In Washington, a couple of state Senate candidates favored by conservationists lost their races to incumbents more resistant to advancing climate policies. That means Governor Inslee may face some challenges in getting his ambitious climate program approved. On the positive side, activists, businesses, and community groups are gearing up and ready to work on lowering emissions from vehicles as well as more comprehensive carbon policies.

All three of these states, which have a combined population of 53 million people and collectively represent the world’s fifth largest economy, are already collaborating on a climate action plan signed by all three governors and the premier of British Columbia. They pledged to work together on aggressive climate action regionally — by harmonizing greenhouse gas reduction policies and investing in low-carbon fuels, energy, and infrastructure — and globally.

All three Western governors have said they will champion new laws and regulations over the next two years to lower carbon emissions. If successful, these efforts will make the West Coast a worldwide leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ramping up the use of clean energy and fuels, while also building their economies.

UCS supporting regional climate efforts

UCS is working closely with scientists and NGOs in all three states to help with the following initiatives:

  • In Washington, Gov. Inslee’s executive order to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy is being implemented and the governor is considering using his executive authority to implement a low-carbon fuel standard. There is also a campaign forming to enact an economy-wide carbon cap that was recommended by a government task force earlier in the year.
  • In Oregon, on the heels of Gov. Kitzhaber’s re-election and the election of an environmental majority in the state legislature, the prospects for re-enacting the state’s Clean Fuel Program have improved, as have the chances for an economy-wide climate policy in the next couple of years.
  • Finally, California Gov. Brown is talking about taking the state’s climate leadership to the next level. After eight years of implementing the first economy-wide climate cap in the U.S., the California economy has come back strongly from the recession with one of the most robust economic growth rates in the nation. The state is on track to reduce its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, despite population and economic growth. This success has made it possible to begin exploring the next generation of deeper carbon reductions from energy and transportation so California can continue on the road to a prosperous low-carbon economy.

Success is only possible with your help

Progress is not a foregone conclusion, however, and advances in all three states are under attack by a very expensive oil company campaign designed to keep us tied to the fossil fuel monopoly. UCS and our allies will be working very hard to achieve clean energy and climate progress over the next two years, and we will need your help, your support, your letters, your voices, and your votes.

We stand a good chance of winning in all three states, creating a huge block of economic and people power that can help demonstrate how climate action is not only feasible, but can help build new industries and a stronger and more resilient economy while also cleaning the environment, making people’s communities healthier, and reducing our reliance on imported energy.

The most successful low-carbon policy we’ve had in this country, our fuel efficiency standards, started as a California policy that expanded to 16 states before being adopted by the federal government. States are frequently the proving ground for federal policies. The West Coast is poised to do it again, but we will need your help.

Stay tuned! And don’t despair—join the fight.

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  • Michael Stevens

    Withdrawing contributions for a hypothesis unproven…good luck!

  • Richard Solomon

    Thanks for the summary of the Western silver lining in today’s cloudy political picture regarding climate change, etc.

    Calif’s efforts at cap and trade and other things are groundbreaking. Gov Brown’s plan to build a high speed railroad between the southern and the northern parts of the State is controversial and yet also commendable.

    I must note, though, that your assessment of Gov Brown ignores some important elements of his positions which are far from climate friendly. First, he has only taken a moderate stance at best when it comes to regulating fracking around the State and offshore. Rather than pushing for a moratorium until the science can evaluate various questionable aspects of this practice he supported legislation which allows it to go on relatively unimpeded. Thus, billions of gallons of toxic chemicals are being released into the ocean. People living near wells are being exposed to these carcinogenic chemicals without knowing what is really in them.

    Second, he has endorsed a plan to build two huge tunnels for the transfer of water from the Sacramento Delta to the south. And he endorsed and pushed for a successful statewide proposition on the recent ballot which basically continues the same practices of building dams, reservoirs, etc. The Governor ran a deceptive campaign which presented this as saving water when it really will lead to MORE of the same kind of water use which has gotten the State into trouble in its current drought. He offers no real long term solutions to re-prioritizing water usage by agriculture and urban users.

    Finally, he has not come out in support of efforts being made on a local level in the East Bay of the SF area to contain the transport of highly volatile crude oil via railroad. The railroads have increased their carrying of this fuel exponentially in recent years with no improvements in communication systems, emergency preparedness, and/or car safety. It is a disaster, like the one which happened in Quebec, just waiting to happen.

    These three issues make it clear that Governor Brown is not so much a champion of the environment and working to slow, if not reverse, climate change as he’d like people to believe.

  • Chris Brooks

    @Dan Pangburn: 97% percent of the people most qualified to speak about what affects the earth’s climate–climate scientists–hold a point of view that is diametrically opposed to yours. Here is a peer-reviewed article published in a reputable scientific journal that proves this:


    Now you try to find one article published in one legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific journal that takes the position that carbon dioxide does not warm the earth’s climate (or even that it’s not the major cause of the current observed warming of earth’s climate). You ought to be able to, because 97% is not 100%, but I doubt that you will.

    Lesson: Look to real science when talking about science.

    • Greyguy

      First, 75% of the scientists who started out believing in global warming have abandend ship due to the ever increasingdata that has come to light that says the whole premise is wrong, so the experts in the field and related fields are opting out; the UN had upwards of 14000 onboard and now they are in the 5000 range. The other reason many have jumped ship is that much of the data fromyou band of merry scientists was fudged to meet the belief[the UK folks and a few others].

      Second, alot of the propaganda you and yours put out is utterly false; ie ice caps are not melting just rearranging and reforming and producing more ice than ever.

      Third, A single medium sized volcano produces more pollution and green house gases than the entire industrial revolution through all of modern industrialization. Now let us move to one of the majorproducers of CO2 livestock passing gas.

      Fourth, let’s get off the hardcore science and please explain to me the villages that have been found under the ploar ice cap “way up north” that are in excess of 5000 years old; something tells me that when the ice was not there us humans and our dastardly ways had nothing to do with the ice not being present.

      I think you global warming filks need to go back to Scientific Methodology 101: Observation, Hypothesis, Experiment[many experiments to make sure you can REPRODUCE your results], Theory[cover all areas of possibility], Law. Something tells me you are somewhere between Observation and Hypothesis and are trying to sell global warming as a proven theory when you do not have any REPRODUCABLE results.

  • ReduceGHGs

    Read what the experts have been saying about climate change for many years then join the efforts to elect law makers that understand the risks we face.
    Google: NASA Climate Change Consensus

  • Carbon dioxide is an odorless, tasteless, transparent gas that is absolutely mandatory for all life on earth. Change to its current level has no significant effect on climate.

    Calling it pollution is scientific incompetence. Calling it carbon makes it sound more ominous and distracts from attending to possible real atmospheric pollutants from coal such as particulates, mercury, NOX and sulfur (as the Chinese are discovering. The US uses precipitators to remove the real pollutants).

    Search AGWunveiled to discover the two natural drivers that explain measured average global temperatures since before 1900 with 95% correlation (R^2 greater than 0.9), credible hind-casting back to 1610 and average global temperature trend prediction to 2037.

    CO2 change is not one of the drivers.

    • ReduceGHGs

      Saying CO2 emissions are pollutants is either ignorant, sick, or dishonest.

      • Your lack of broad or even elemental science skill makes you gullible to mob-think