In summary

Responding with half-measures will only feed worsening drought, heat waves and firestorms; state leaders must support SB 582.

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By Nayamin Martinez

Nayamin Martinez is the executive director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network,

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Judith Mitchell, Special to CalMatters

Judith Mitchell served for seven years on the California Air Resources Board, and 10 years on the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District,

California is becoming ground zero for the climate crisis. Intensifying drought and wildfire emergencies caused by climate change are the harbingers of a great gamble that risk the loss of California as we know it.

The drought is not an anomaly but part of a multi-decadal pattern caused by climate change, threatening dust bowl-like impacts to California’s agricultural heartland. It fueled the largest wildfires in state history. More than 4.2 million acres burned last year, causing a toxic smoke storm that smothered much of the state. With vegetation now the driest on record in many locations, we have already experienced almost twice as many fires as this time last year.

This trajectory is not sustainable for California’s communities, economy or environment. It also threatens our social fabric because climate change disproportionately harms lower-income communities, communities of color and the elderly. We must boldly enact the policies to reverse these trends. Investing big now will save lives, property and dollars — not to mention our identity as an inclusive state. 

Responding with half-measures will only feed worsening drought, heat waves and firestorms. Climate change is accelerating faster than scientists projected just a few years ago, with nine of 15 global climate tipping points already activated. We must do much more, much sooner. The next decade is our window to preserve a safe and healthy future for all Californians. 

Governments are stepping up to meet the moment — just not California’s. Boris Johnson’s conservative British government recently set a target to reduce carbon emissions to 68% below 1990 levels by 2030, and the European Union set a goal of 55%. President Joe Biden just pledged to get the U.S. to 50% by 2030 (below 2005 levels). By contrast, California’s current climate target for 2030 is the least ambitious at only 40% below 1990 levels.

California has the science, technology and know-how to get where we need to go, fast. Our state leaders must wield this potential by adopting aggressive climate goals for California. They must support Senate Bill 582, introduced by Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat from Canoga Park. SB 582 doubles California’s current climate goals, committing the state to reduce climate pollution to 80% below 1990 levels by 2030.  

Passing SB 582 would send a clear signal to the world that California — the world’s fifth largest economy — is going to lead on climate once again. It would show that this is a state where investors want to put their money, creating new climate solutions, new businesses, whole new industries and lots of jobs since clean energy investments create twice as many jobs when compared to fossil fuels.

When California leads, the rest of the world follows. Our 2002 tailpipe emissions reduction law was adopted by 13 other states and became the national standard by 2010. In 2017, when the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords, California launched the Under2 Coalition which now includes 220 jurisdictions representing 1.3 billion people and 43% of the world economy committed to greenhouse gas reductions. With the state having already exceeded its 2020 reductions goals, our economy is proof-positive that a zero-carbon future and California’s prosperity are not mutually exclusive. 

The state’s $75 billion state budget surplus provides an opportunity to invest in equitable climate solutions — electric vehicle charging, clean energy, building electrification and fossil gas cutbacks, community energy resilience and resilience hubs, and programs that capture climate-changing emissions on natural and working lands.

State leaders rarely face circumstances so clearly pointing to bold action. Climate change is an existential crisis racing ahead of policies California has enacted to confront it. The decisions our state leaders make now dictate whether we slide into long-term, irreversible damage to our health, economy and way of life, or secure a climate-safe and healthy future for all. 

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