Drastic changes are needed if California is to win the climate-change challenge

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When Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his keynote speech at the recent California Economic Summit in Fresno, he failed to say two keywords: climate change. Conversely, he said a lot about our economy while at a climate change summit held in New York just weeks earlier:

“The [California] economy is growing; a fully functioning cap-and-trade program; the most audacious low-carbon green growth goals in the United States of America. There’s nothing left for me to sign — it’s 100 percent across the board, in every category,” he boasted at Climate Week NYC held in support of the U.N. Climate Action Summit in late September.

Our Future
Valley Climate Activists greeted attendees of the California Economic Summit in Fresno on Sept. 27.

Speaking on the eve of wildfire season, Newsom seemed to be tempting fate itself. Conflagrations were soon exploding around the state as if an invading armada were shelling it: Sandalwood, Caples, Saddleridge, Kincade, Tick, Getty, Easy. People fled for their lives — some died — in war zones of flame, smoke, sirens, panic and confusion.

And if Newsom needed another call to arms, two days before the first wildfire hit, San Francisco-based nonprofit think tank Next 10 issued its 11th annual California Green Innovation Index. The report warns, “California will meet its 2030 climate targets more than three decades late — 2061… if the average rate of emissions reductions from the past year holds steady.”

But California and the world must cut emissions by half before 2030. If not, tipping points will be crossed that set in motion irreversible, ever-increasing releases of naturally stored carbon and methane, according to the October U.N.October U.N. report on a 1.5 C increase in global average temperature.

Yet there stood Newsom in Fresno on Nov. 8, one year after the Camp Fire, the deadliest, most destructive fire in state history with at least 85 victims, talking about the state’s economy without once mentioning climate change.

Consequently, the state government’s climate change programs are rooted in outdated strategies warped by fossil fuel lobbyists like former state legislators Henry T. Perea of Fresno, now with Western States Petroleum Association, and Chevron’s Michael Rubio of Bakersfield.

When pressed by The Bee and KFCF radio afterwards, Newsom explained California is now in the implementation phase of its climate change response, echoing his New York remarks.

Indeed we are.

California’s cap-and-trade program, dominated by oil and gas interests, encompasses 450 businesses emitting 85% of the state’s greenhouse gases and along with two Canadian provinces comprises the world’s fourth largest exchange for carbon credits. Since 2013 it has generated $11.9 billion for reduction efforts.

High speed rail has received a fifth so far — $2.5 billion — but the concrete-intensive project will never offset its carbon footprint, and its construction spews asthma-irritating dust and cancer-causing diesel exhaust continually on West Fresno residents already hard hit by industrial polluters.

Another $2.2 billion has gone toward low carbon transportation. Primarily for alternative fuel programs, these largely serve to extend dependence on fossil fuels and combustion technologies. For example, more than $800 million is slated for a dairy methane program best described as the HSR of agriculture: it offers dubious benefits but negatively impacts vulnerable rural communities, according to an April working paper from Fresno-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

Finally, in late September the state Air Resources Board approved the California Tropical Forest Standard, a potential carbon credit source for fossil fuel companies, over the objections of indigenous opponents from around the world who decried the move as “carbon colonization” of their natural resources.

Newsom must address these policies’ shortcomings head on. Because, as the Next 10 report lays bare, cap-and-trade and other market-based solutions won’t work in time. They have not worked in time.

Unfortunately, Newsom and the rest of his generation now in power came of age in an era of market-as-solution, government-as-problem philosophy. Since the 1980s, most California politicians have drunk deeply from that Reagan-with-a-twist-of-Clinton policy cocktail; with it comes considerable financial backing from industry, particularly oil and gas extractors.

Consequently, the state government’s climate change programs are rooted in outdated strategies warped by fossil fuel lobbyists like former state legislators Henry T. Perea of Fresno, now with Western States Petroleum Association, and Chevron’s Michael Rubio of Bakersfield.

The urgent response appropriate to the scale of our climate emergency will remain out of reach unless Newsom and the state Legislature change direction dramatically. To push them, youth climate strikes will be held on Black Friday. People of all ages will challenge the status quo, fighting against its genocidal outcomes.

Kevin Hall is a Fresno resident and graduate of Fresno State. He formerly reported on farm issues for trade publications and is now an air-quality activist.

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