Pie and Praise: Why I’m Especially Thankful for California’s Leadership on Climate This Thanksgiving

, Former Western states senior climate analyst | November 23, 2016, 4:49 pm EDT
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Following our annual pre-Thanksgiving tradition, my husband and I gathered with friends around a long wooden table on Sunday night to eat homemade pies and share what we’re thankful for this year. Some said family, others their health or jobs.

While I shared those sentiments, my thoughts quickly turned to gratitude for California’s leadership in addressing climate change. The strong voices and actions of our policymakers are a welcome contrast to the uncertainty surrounding climate action under a Trump administration.california-us-flags

Standing Up for Climate Action

Perhaps now more than ever, California’s ability to demonstrate that a low carbon and climate resilient economy is achievable, and that it can spur economic growth and benefit everyone, is critical. That’s why I’m thankful that the state’s leadership has voiced its continued commitment to this vision in recent weeks.

  • Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown issued a statement with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark that reaffirmed their resolve to stand with the international community and take “bold action to achieve the targets set in the Paris agreement.”
  • In a joint statement the day after the election, Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon reassured Californians that “California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.”

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I’m even more thankful that earlier this year, California made history by adopting the most ambitious heat-trapping emissions targets in North America. This provides much needed certainty for the state’s climate program.

In a feat that seemed nearly impossible until it was accomplished, SB 32 (Pavley) and a companion bill, AB 197 (E. Garcia), became law. Together, they establish an ambitious emissions reduction goal for 2030 of 40 percent below 1990 levels, and increase legislative oversight for the state’s climate programs while underscoring that the policies must help the communities most affected by climate change and air pollution.

Governor Brown, signing a UCS-backed climate change law—one of the most ambitious in the world. From the left: Assembly member (Asm) Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, Senator Fran Pavley, Governor Brown (seated), Senator Ricardo Lara, ASM Jimmy Gomez, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Governor Brown, signing SB 32 and AB 197, a UCS-backed climate change law—one of the most ambitious in the world. From the left: Assembly member (Asm) Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, Senator Fran Pavley, Governor Brown (seated), Senator Ricardo Lara, Asm Jimmy Gomez, Asm Eduardo Garcia, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Of course, setting the targets is only the first step. We have a lot of work to do to achieve the state’s 2030 target and 2050 target of 80 percent below 1990 levels, and to do it in a way that can benefit all Californians.

My UCS colleagues and I are closely following development of the state’s roadmap to 2030, the Scoping Plan 2030 Update, to ensure it represents the most robust set of policies possible. The California Air Resources Board will release a discussion draft of the plan later this month, so stay tuned for more details.

Folsom Lake - an important reservoir for California - at extremely low water levels in 2014 due to drought. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

Folsom Lake – an important reservoir and source of hydropower for California – at extremely low water levels in 2014 due to drought. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

At the same time, we also need to be thinking about how climate change will affect the infrastructure investments we make to meet the state’s targets, like updating our energy grid, and other key infrastructure investments (roads, bridges, water systems, etc.) that provide important public services and safety. The billions of dollars we spend each year on infrastructure should ensure that it’s built to last in the facing of a changing climate.

I’m thankful that California reasserted its continued leadership on this issue this year:

  • Governor Brown signed a UCS-sponsored bill into law, AB 2800 (Quirk), to help engineer our infrastructure – particularly bridges, roads, water systems, and buildings – to better withstand the impacts of climate change.
  • The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is developing guidance for state agencies to incorporate climate impacts into planning and investment decisions, with a special focus on infrastructure and protecting the state’s most vulnerable populations. I represent UCS on the Technical Advisory Group for this effort. The guidance document should be released next month.

As with the targets, there is a lot more work still to be done. Yet these and other related efforts here in California can provide valuable insights for any major infrastructure investments by the Trump administration.

Looking To Next Thanksgiving

I count myself among the many people concerned with the health of the planet that are troubled by President-elect Trump’s statements on climate change. But I have hope that, as a businessman, he will look at California as a model for how global warming pollution can be reduced and climate resilience increased while growing a vibrant economy.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but for today, I will choose gratitude. And then I’ll roll up my sleeves and get back to work alongside the millions of people advancing solutions to climate change worldwide, so that next year at this time, I’ll have even more reasons to be thankful.

California Department of Water Resources

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  • solodoctor

    As a long time California resident I am also grateful for the efforts being made in our state and with our neighboring states and British Columbia to make significant progress in reducing GHG’s and other climate change related processes. However, I must note that Governor Brown has lacked foresight in two important areas. First, he has done nothing about more active oversight, if not eliminating, the impact that hydraulic fracturing is having on our environment. Billions of gallons of toxic waste water are dumped into the ocean, poorly built storage pools of these toxic liquids are allowed to exist, and methane leaks go unchecked. A number of counties around the state (5 or 6 at this point?) have instituted bans on fracking via local ballot measures approved by registered voters. This has happened because the State stands by and allows these activities to go on.

    Second, his plans for a pair of pipelines to transfer huge amounts of water from the Sacramento Delta to the south are short sighted, at best. The State should not be endorsing the continuation of wasteful water usage at this time. Even if we were not in the midst of a 6 year drought the growth of urban populations in the last 25 years, let alone in the next 25 years, should dictate that our policies of allowing agribusinesses to tap into precious water resources unchecked must change. While I agree that we need to keep growing food in our State, we also need to become a lot more practical about HOW we do it.

    For a governor who claims to be a environmentalist Jerry Brown has turned a remarkably disturbing blind eye towards these two issues. One must wonder if he is more a partner of, if not an advocate for, the fossil fuel and agribusiness industries than he cares to admit.

    Rather than act as cheerleaders for the Governor I would hope that UCS would lobby with him more actively for constructive changes in these two important areas of policy. I have tried doing so via as a private citizen over the last few years but he has never responded to my inquiries. It may be too late as Brown only has two years left in his term of office. But it is still worth the effort to have an impact on him….as well as the Legislature and the next Governor.

    • Jamesine Rogers Gibson

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on two important issues for California, fracking and sustainable water use. We’ve been following the debate about fracking both here in CA and nationally, and supported a California bill in 2015 that would have put a moratorium on fracking. In addition, our colleagues have put together a toolkit to help equip communities to ask the right questions and get the best information to weigh a decision about fracking (http://www.ucsusa.org/center-for-science-and-democracy/events/fracking-forum-toolkit.html).

      We’re also closely following policy developments related to sustainable use of water and water infrastructure in California, and advocating for more scientifically-robust polices especially in light of climate change. My colleague Juliet Christian-Smith’s blog series adeptly describes our current efforts (http://blog.ucsusa.org/author/juliet-christian-smith?_ga=1.263614860.123847891.1447882585#.WDzRhrIrKUk).

      Thank you for your advocacy on these issues in your capacity as a private citizen!