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.”