California blazes a trail to the future, once again

Once again, California is showing the way forward.  This time, it’s more consequential than Hollywood’s entertainment, Silicon Valley’s new tech, or the Sixties’ social evolutions.  California is road-testing large-scale public policies that face up to the profound threat of climate change, showing the rest of us that a shared social commitment IS possible.  As fleshed out The California Code, published in the new west-coast quarterly journal, Boom:

California’s response to the drought is … nationally and globally significant. What state and local leaders did to reduce the risks, and how state residents reacted, was a very public demonstration of government’s capacity to act with reason and intelligence to a short-term ecological emergency, with a long-term vision.

California sprang to action in its fourth year of deep drought because water management professionals and state leaders recognized that California’s water-scarce condition could be the new norm. They accepted the scientific consensus that it could get considerably worse. The way out of the trouble was to convince state residents of the need for collective action and to instill behavioral changes in homes and businesses that would diminish demand and provide a higher measure of safety.

Perhaps that should not be surprising given California’s historical ability to set the national and global agenda in culture, technology, environmental restoration, and the like. It’s arguable, though, that what California is up to now in responding to global ecological disarray may be the most important contribution to human well-being that it’s ever made.

A series of remarkably astute and aggressive measures approved by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Sacramento has systematically formed a model for dealing with Earth’s new conditions, and it is proving to be effective. Among the most significant measures:

  • A 2002 statute to require sharp reductions in climate-changing emissions in vehicles, which account for 40 percent of greenhouse gases.
  • A 2005 executive order that mandates a 20 percent cut in climate emissions from all sources from 1990 levels by 2020, principally by encouraging the development of new buildings that are efficient enough and generate enough of their own power to achieve “net zero” energy use.
  • A 2006 statute that established market tools and new regulations to cut climate emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.
  • A 2011 statute requiring California’s utilities to generate 33 percent of their electricity by 2020 with renewable sources other than hydropower.
  • A 2014 statute that draws California groundwater supplies and use under state oversight in order to limit serious groundwater depletion, pollution, and land subsidence in the Central Valley.
  • Last year, San Diego announced it would generate all of its electricity with renewable energy by 2030.
  • The world’s largest solar photovoltaic and concentrated, solar-electric generating stations operate in the Mojave Desert in California.
  • Later this year, Sacramento will open a high-tech arena and public square in its redeveloping downtown without any new parking capacity. A smart decision to build a light-rail transit network thirty years ago made that possible.

As Boom says:

Put all of these civic changes and programs together and the result is a state that has set out a new model for building its economy and sustaining quality of life. That model rests on a foundation of legal requirements and new operating practices fit for the time—drastically reducing climate emissions, increasing energy efficiency, requiring net zero energy use in new buildings, conserving water, electrifying transportation, preventing pollution, and pursuing cleaner energy production.

At the community and state levels, California has elevated ecological sensitivity as a powerful driver of economic progress. . . . While these new indicators of progress gain momentum, many of the old indicators, such as job growth and business starts, provide a powerful counterpoint to old conventional wisdom that reducing climate emissions and pursuing energy development that avoids fossil fuels could cripple the economy. California’s unemployment rate, 5.8 percent in October 2015, is half what it was in 2010. The state has been adding 50,000 new jobs monthly. Business starts are way up.

CA_ClimateLeadership-CoverCheck out the Boom article for more.

And if you’d like to dig in even further, the Bioneers put together an e-Book from talks given at a special session at their 2014 gathering that featured 14 of California’s top environmental leaders.  It’s yours for the modest price of your email address.


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