By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – The record heat of last week was a good reminder to Californians what they are up against—we saw record temperatures and a strained but not broken electrical grid.
At the same time, California has taken real steps—aggressive steps—to address climate concerns. Unfortunately, while California has taken clear and concrete steps to address climate change, the rest of the nation and much of the rest of the world lags behind.
We have already seen the early impact of climate change—rising average temperatures, destructive fires, higher sea levels, severe drought, and floods.
In a release from Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, whose bill AB 1384 was signed into law by Governor Newsom, empowering “California’s state agencies and departments to implement comprehensive climate adaptation strategies that outline governance, goals, and metrics to ensure the state meets its climate adaptation goals,” he cited the Fourth Climate Change Assessment.
Findings show that our average daily temperature is projected to increase by five to nine degrees. By the year 2100, the water supply from snowpack is projected to decline by two-thirds. By the year 2050, California’s agricultural production could face water shortages of up to 16 percent.
Additionally, the frequency of extreme wildfires would surge, and the average area burned statewide would increase by approximately 77 percent. Already, many lives and whole communities have been lost or destroyed. Important species, trees, agriculture, and entire ecosystems which Californians depend on for vital resources are on the brink of collapse.
Columnist Dan Walers noted that the heatwave generated a record demand of more than 52,000 megawatts that hit 80% of the state’s electric power system and “was a successful stress test for the grid.”
He also noted that the state legislature passed “legislation to speed up California’s conversion to a carbon-free electrical grid by 2045.”
SB 1020 will require that, by 2035, California get 90 percent of its power from renewable sources at the same time the state is scheduled to end sales of gas-powered vehicles; and 95 percent by 2040 while retaining the 2045 deadline for converting to a carbon-free electrical grid.
“Climate scientists tell us that that Tuesday’s experience, including elevated demands on the grid, will become more common,” Walters writes. “Meanwhile, California theoretically will, in just 13 years, more than triple its proportion of renewable power production.
“But there’s more. Power demand will not only increase due to climate change, but because California will be shifting everything it can from hydrocarbons to electricity.”
Walters worries that the state needs to be better be able to store solar power, writing, “The state now has a few battery banks to preserve solar power but scaling up will be enormously difficult and expensive and at the moment there are few alternatives.”
He is skeptical that the state can meet the demand.
“Is California really up the task that the new legislation mandates, a very expensive, relatively rapid conversion and expansion of this immensely complicated and absolutely vital thing we call the grid?” he asked. “Recent history is not reassuring.”
Improving technology will help. Reducing the reliance on fossil fuels both for driving and electricity generation will help, but as an article in Wired points out this week, it will take more than that to save the planet.
Wired points out the move by California to ban new gas-powered vehicle sales by 2035 “will reduce emissions by nearly 400 million metric tons between 2026 and 2040, the state calculates…”
Wired also points out, “The ban is the first such move in the US and among the most aggressive climate regulations in the world.”
What may be less noted in media reports, “an auto industry already excited about electrification seems to have taken the whole thing in stride.” As a result, “Experts say the goal should be well within reach, too; after all, more than 16 percent of new cars sold in California this year were zero-emission.”
But there is also bad news.
Wired notes, “California still has lots of work to do, because electrifying cars alone won’t be enough to stave off the worst of climate change.”
In a draft report released this summer, “the state’s Air Resources Board turned to another policy needed alongside banning gas cars: reducing the number of miles that Californians drive every year.”
“Even with improvements in clean vehicle technology and fuels,” the agency wrote, “it is still necessary to reduce driving to meet state climate and air quality commitments.”
So there it is.
One reason that driving less is going to have to become a huge policy is that the switch to all-electric vehicles and the switch to renewable energy is not happening overnight.
Wired notes, “Despite new purchases and old cars getting scrapped, the average age of cars on US roads keeps increasing—today, the average is more than 12 years. Existing gas-powered cars will stick around long after they’re banned from new car lots.”
Plus, “there are plenty of emissions associated with cars and driving that don’t come out of a tailpipe, including manufacturing the vehicle in the first place, and the stuff that cars drive on. Building and maintaining just one lane-mile of highway creates some 3,500 tons of carbon emissions, according to one analysis.”
Moreover, “Despite its target, California has not so far managed to significantly reduce driving. In 2019, the last year of strong data, Californians were driving and riding in cars more, as measured by annual vehicle miles traveled per person, than they were 14 years earlier. They were carpooling, biking, and walking to work less. And fewer people were taking the bus or train, a pattern that has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic.”
By 2035, “the state aims to reduce the miles traveled by vehicle by the average Californian by 19 percent, compared to 2005. But preliminary data suggests that by 2019, that number had moved in the opposite direction.”
Guess what this links up with—housing and jobs.
Wired notes, “People won’t stop driving if the state builds more places to live that are closer to where people want to go, like commercial strips with lots of offices and shops. But they might take fewer trips, meaning they’ll drive less.”
As we transition toward an economy with more people working from home, that might reduce VMT as well.
Wired notes, “California has passed laws to increase the supply of housing, including some that allow property owners to build more units on a single lot. But those new rules have met opposition from some cities, and building new housing takes time.”
Further, “officials in California and other parts of the world have also experimented with policies that both make it easier to live without a car and make it more annoying to drive one.”
In a little Davis connection, Wired quotes Susan Handy at UC Davis.
“What we’re trying to do is to get people to drive less, but for a lot of people, that’s just not very possible,” says Susan Handy, a professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis. “What we need to do is rebuild and adjust our communities so that it becomes just possible to drive less,” she says.’
The article cites the need to improve public transit, but also “building safer infrastructure for people who’d rather walk or bike or scooter.”
They add, “Davis, California, where Handy lives, has a few natural advantages. It’s usually pretty nice out, and the terrain is rather flat. But the city also has well-marked and -maintained bike lanes and lower speed limits, particularly around its university campus.”
Bottom line, moving to renewable energy and away from gas powered cars are important, but we also need to drive less.