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The fight for the future starts in California.

The fight for the future starts in California.

When California passed AB32, the landmark greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction bill in 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger said;

“Using market-based incentives, we will reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. That’s a 25 percent reduction. And by 2050, we will reduce emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels. We simply must do everything in our power to slow down global warming before it’s too late.” 

But the opposition apparently borrowed another quote from the governator:

“I’ll be back.”

And back they are, with a coal and oil interest backed ballot initiative which seeks to overturn AB32 before most of the more significant pieces of it take effect. The fight reflects the two sides of the debate on what to do about global warming.

On one side are the folks who believe we must act, and who are also happy to assert that by taking action, we will create thousands of new green and ‘clean tech’ jobs, while reshaping our economy around energy conservation, clean technology, and renewable energy production. Not surprisingly Silicon Valley is firmly behind AB 32 and against efforts to repeal it. California imports a significant amount of electricity, and sources almost all if its coal, natural gas, and oil from outside the state. The prospect of breaking this dependency and reducing emissions through the use of technology represents a pretty exciting future, and many feel that the state will become more competitive as a result.

As Schwarzenegger also said; 

“Some have challenged whether AB 32 is good for businesses. I say unquestionably it is good for businesses. Not only large, well-established businesses, but small businesses that will harness their entrepreneurial spirit to help us achieve our climate goals.

But on the other side are those who claim we should not act, and that the initiative will cost the state jobs while reducing GDP by as much as $100 Billion dollars over the next ten years. This case is being pressed by a consortium of oil refiners, truckers, and coal interests, who like things just the way they are. If California stands alone and energy costs rise in the state, this could be the future, as businesses move operations out of the state, and consumers seek out cheaper products and services from elsewhere, even if they have a higher embedded carbon footprint.

So if AB32 stands, apparently there are two very different possible futures in the Golden State. One in which the rest of the country scrambles to keep up with a new energy paradigm that makes California an economic engine, or one in which the burden of taking responsibility for emissions simply adds cost. Not coincidentally, this is the same debate that’s going on in Washington over national climate legislation.

My guess is that the impact of AB32 will be closer to neutral, and certainly somewhere in between these two extremes: On one hand, energy costs will rise, which will hurt businesses and consumers. But California will use less, create energy jobs, and keep more money in the state. And in the long term, the  state will be protected from energy price shocks. One thing is certain: The big losers in all of these scenarios are those whose business models continue to be built around the demand for fossil fuel. And that’s why they are putting up money to overturn AB32.

The economic consequences of meaningful and comprehensive emissions legislation won’t be known for some time, and Californians are being asked to take a leap of faith.  An uncertain future is pretty scary, but scarier still is a failure to take action on curbing our addiction to fossil fuels and the consequences of that addiction.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

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92 comments

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7:26PM PST on Jan 15, 2014

Thank you.

7:25PM PST on Jan 15, 2014

Thank you.

7:24PM PST on Jan 15, 2014

Thank you.

7:24PM PST on Jan 15, 2014

Thank you.

3:34AM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

Ed. G why so much animosity towards a naturally growing plant that has never caused any harm to anything or anyone?

9:53AM PDT on Aug 29, 2010

Clean air,food,water is something we all need I think. Anything moving towards this whatever the cost would seem worthwhile.
However a trail run even a couple of them carefully monitored as pilot projects might be the way to go. Am so pleased that they are doing something anyway

9:47AM PDT on Aug 23, 2010

thanks

8:26AM PDT on Aug 22, 2010

While I'm all in favor of setting goals for the reduction of emissions, often these goals are set without much thought about how they will be achieved, how to ensure this.

12:16PM PDT on Aug 19, 2010

California never ceases to surprise me. On one hand they are trying to legalize pot on the other hand they are really attempting in this bill to do something for the environment (!!good).
I am not for the the legalization of pot. If California does so I will refuse to enter in anyway the state of california (except to pass over it in flight).

10:22AM PDT on Aug 16, 2010

Wrong! this is another bill to make sure thet the jobs are not attainable since the rising cost will not allow poorer people access to cheap private transportation. The poor design of the system is to blame as it was put in place willynilly. What should be si use a prototype area to see if it works first before imposing the "bright idea" on the whole state.

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