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      Less Pollution, Greater Justice

      [notes from Oct. 16 speech at Bioneer's Marin conference]

      California is moving towards a historic integration of greenhouse gas reduction strategies with a foundation based on environmental justice. That means we need a broader program and a broader coalition, more like a Green New Deal model than the market model favoring deregulation and unleashing the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries.

      This means a growing opportunity to widen the public perception of the environmental agenda to include jobs, infrastructure and equity. The historic passage of AB 32 (2006) is now firmly linked with SB 535 which mandates co-benefits for "disadvantaged communities" and gives environmental justice advocates an important role in the decision-making process.

      The importance of our climate justice battled with industry will be demonstrated in the fight against Chevron being waged by the residents of Richmond this November (NB: Chevron lost).

      The fossil fuel lobby already has clarified that we are in a sharp and protracted struggle over climate policies in California and that we must leave our comfort zone. California is not "blue", it remains divided. Only last year Chevron recruited a sitting state senator, Michael Rubio of Bakersfield, to become their Sacramento lobbyist. They poured money into advertisements blaming the governor's environmental policies for raising the cost of gasoline. They lobbied to exempt their industry from coming under AB 32's cap-and-trade program, backing out of a deal they seemed to accept several years ago. It took powerful action and letters from the governor's office and outgoing Senate leader Steinberg to prevent the exemption amendment, by Sen. Henry Perea, from being taken up in the last week of session.

      Important gains in this direction have included:


      • SB 1204 [Lara] to cut pollution affecting working class and poor families now squeezed along freeway corridors;
      • The "million [affordable] green cars" initiative by Environment California, fashioned by Sen. De Leon with $200 million in incentives for working and low-income families from cap-and-trade funds;
      • The SB 605 authorization for the ARB to attack short-lived pollutants like black carbon and methane. The new law will offer co-benefits to improve water quality and reduce air pollution in disadvantaged communities;
      • SB 375 that pushes the "sustainable communities" goal of integrating land use, housing and transportation strategies in meeting emission reduction goals.


      Momentum in 2015

      And so on. But we need to build more momentum going into 2015. We need to build a public mandate for the governor and state to move more rapidly and effectively towards our goals.

      We must try to double, at least double, the rate of emissions reductions and expanded renewables as a source of electricity by 2030. The goals set by California have an effect on other states and regions around the country and the world. The ultimate goal of most of us is to achieve a 100 percent renewable resource economy in the decades ahead. The 100 percent goal was defined as feasible as long ago as 1979, and lately by excellent studies by Mark Jacobson at Stanford.

      We need to target - and rename in popular language, the state's slashing of "short-lived climate pollutants" (methane, black carbon, f-gases, tropospheric ozone), with co-benefits in terms of improving public health and sustainable communities. The threat of these "slcp's" is far greater than that of carbon dioxide. But precisely because they are short-lived, their removal can produce immediate benefits in human health. We can do more to save the health of kids in disadvantaged communities, protect the Sierras from snowpack erosion, and prevent methane leaks in ag and oil/gas production.

      We need to push the administration to tighten transportation and building standards, keeping up the momentum.

      We need to stay on target to achieve the state's 75% recycling and composting goals by 2020. Compostable organics are one-third of our state's disposable waste and are the primary source for methane emissions from landfills.

      We need to see the state's "Forest Carbon Plan" which is to be released in 2016. The CARB Scoping Plan doesn't say much at this point.

      And we need to greatly accelerate the good work already being done towards divestment from fossil fuels and investment in clean energy. While the UC coalition failed to persuade the Regents to divest this year, they did achieve a $1 billion pledge from UC to invest in sustainable energy sources over the next five years. Stanford has taken a stand against coal and has promised to address other fossil investments. The governor, legislature and PERS should be pushed to begin addressing the risks of further fossil fuel investments. Our past successes with South Africa and Big Tobacco should be the model.

      The Strategy of Building the Green Bloc

      Simply improving California's clean energy record obviously will not save us from climate disaster globally. Already, we literally are getting pollution from China and radioactive waste from Fukushima. We know that Obama's proposed regulations on coal are under a dangerous threat nationally. That leaves us for now with a strategy-from-below, building a Green Power Bloc in states and regions where the politics are favorable.

      California already is implementing low-carbon or no-carbon pacts [or memos of understanding] with multiple powers. Germany. Three provinces in China. Mexico. Peru. Japan. British Columbia. Quebec. Israel. The list is growing. In this country, the Bloc includes the Pacific Rim state, the Great Lakes region and New York-New England. The total U.S. population covered by these agreements is 166 million people, a $7 trillion economy, and has a total of 262 Electoral College votes.

      Cynics will certainly complain that this is too little, too late. On the other hand, such a bloc was only a dream. But now it's taken root. The California standards pull other US states forward. Towards the UN summits, California will be able to showcase a plan addressing greenhouse gas reductions [lower emissions] and greater justice for the poor, a plan that doesn't rely on either nuclear power or coal. It's a model something like the New Deal of the 1930s without the extractions of fossil fuel which powered that model during Roosevelt's presidency and ever since. Let's remember that the first New Deal wasn't built around ideology. It was necessary to demolish the ruling paradigm of the time, which said that Wall Street and the "free" market ruled everything. People came to favor government leadership not from a worship of government itself but because the New Deal saved them - including my family - from the extremes of the Depression while it advanced workers' rights and old age protections for the very first time. The same model will broaden the scope and character of the current environmental movement to become a new political majority. Each step we take is building a green global New Deal. 

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      Reader Comments (1)

      Your tangential inclusion of nuclear power as a global warming issue is not warranted.
      " Already, we literally are getting pollution from China and radioactive waste from Fukushima."
      The former is true, but the latter is not. No significant radioactive pollution from Fukushima has been experienced in California or the United States. The radioactivity is almost undetectable and virtually of no health or environmental hazard
      May I suggest that you desist in raising nuclear power plants that exist are in issue for climate change. If anything they replace fossil fuel energy pollution now.

      November 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoland Finston
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