Governor Jerry Brown was sworn in for a fourth term on Monday and issued a call to action on the environment and, in particular, climate change.
He said, “Neither California nor indeed the world itself can ignore the growing assault on the very systems of nature on which human beings and other forms of life depend. Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s preeminent biologists and naturalists, offered this sobering thought:
‘Surely one moral precept we can agree on is to stop destroying our birthplace, the only home humanity will ever have. The evidence for climate warming, with industrial pollution as the principal cause, is now overwhelming. Also evident upon even casual inspection is the rapid disappearance of tropical forests and grasslands and other habitats where most of the diversity of life exists.’ ”
The governor continued, “With these global changes, he went on to say, ‘We are needlessly turning the gold we inherited from our forebears into straw, and for that we will be despised by our descendants.’ “
He trumpeted California’s commitment with “the most far-reaching environmental laws of any state and the most integrated policy to deal with climate change of any political jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere.
“Under laws that you have enacted, we are on track to meet our 2020 goal of one-third of our electricity from renewable energy. We lead the nation in energy efficiency, cleaner cars and energy storage. Recently, both the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the World Bank made clear that properly pricing carbon is a key strategy. California’s cap-and-trade system fashioned under AB 32 is doing just that and showing how the market itself can generate the innovations we need,” he said.
He added, “Beyond this, California is forging agreements with other states and nations so that we do not stand alone in advancing these climate objectives.”
But these efforts he said, going even further, “are not enough.”
He said, “The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, backed up by the vast majority of the world’s scientists, has set an ambitious goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2050 through drastic reductions of greenhouse gases. If we have any chance at all of achieving that, California, as it does in many areas, must show the way. We must demonstrate that reducing carbon is compatible with an abundant economy and human well-being. So far, we have been able to do that.
“In fact, we are well on our way to meeting our AB 32 goal of reducing carbon pollution and limiting the emissions of heat-trapping gases to 431 million tons by 2020. But now, it is time to establish our next set of objectives for 2030 and beyond,” the governor said.
The governor went further, proposing “three ambitious goals to be accomplished within the next 15 years.”
First, he called for the “increase from one-third to 50 percent of our electricity derived from renewable sources.” Second he called on a reduction of petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent. Third, he called for doubling the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner.
“We must also reduce the relentless release of methane, black carbon and other potent pollutants across industries. And we must manage farm and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon. All of this is a very tall order. It means that we continue to transform our electrical grid, our transportation system and even our communities,” he said.
“I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles. How we achieve these goals and at what pace will take great thought and imagination mixed with pragmatic caution. It will require enormous innovation, research and investment. And we will need active collaboration at every stage with our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, businesses and officials at all levels,” the governor said.
He added, “Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels. This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.”
Governor Brown drew praise from at least one environmental group. Earthjustice Vice President Abigail Dillen issued a statement, “We applaud Gov. Brown for working to secure a cleaner, brighter future for California and paving the way for the rest of the country and the world to follow. Weaning the state off dirty fossil fuels and embracing clean energy is the kind of immediate action we need to confront the worst effects of climate change. California has long been a leader in solar and wind power which has resulted in a robust and expanding renewable energy industry and drastic reductions in climate warming carbon emissions.”
The LA Times, however, noted that “the governor’s climate change proposals were greeted with muted approval by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, a moderate Fresno Democrat, who has opposed some of the state’s current carbon reducing policies.”
“It’s a good aspirational goal but I think the devil is in the details,” Assemblyman Perea said. “What I really picked up on is the governor’s comments on making our climate change goals work within the boundaries of our economy. That’s really where we need to work on.”
The Associated Press reported that former Governor Gray Davis “praised the environmental goals and said Brown likely based the targets on achievable science.”
“Even if the rhetoric is slightly ahead of reality, he’s always believed that our reach should exceed our grasp,” Mr. Davis said.
The AP also noted, “Some environmental groups urged Brown to go further and ban fracking in California. They argue that tapping the state’s oil reserve will greatly add to carbon pollution.”
“The oil and gas boom threatens to undercut all the other progress that our state may make on climate change,” said Kassie Siegel, a senior counsel on climate issues for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit.
—David M. Greenwald reporting