In summary

Despite all that we experienced last year, I’m still hopeful that California can once more lead the nation and world with climate solutions.

By Mary Creasman, Special to CalMatters

Mary Creasman is the CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, mary@ecovote.org.

2020 was a year that will be remembered for generations to come. Our lives were turned upside down by a pandemic. Our country was faced with a racial reckoning on the killing of Black Americans by police. More Californians voted than ever before. And, we sent one of our own – the first Black, South Asian woman and a Californian – to the White House. 

2020 was also the start of a critical decade for our state, our country and the world. Scientists tell us that we only have until 2030 to stop the most severe impacts of the climate crisis. Less than nine years out from this deadline, we are already experiencing a changing climate. Longer, more intense fire seasons. Extreme heat. Floods. Increased pollution and public health threats. 

Each year, we look at our progress toward this benchmark. We ask ourselves – is our state doing enough to fight the climate crisis and create a more just future?

We look at the sectors that need to be addressed by 2030. We examine how environmental and democracy legislation fared in the state. We look at the actions of our governor and Legislature, and we share this information with voters.

For the second year in a row, we are giving California a “C” grade on climate action. In 2020, the Legislature abandoned any efforts to deal with the climate crisis.

It’s true that the pandemic upended work in Sacramento this past year. But a key reason for this inaction is actually that corporate interests are calling the shots in Sacramento. 

Our state has a reputation for being progressive but that’s not the reality right now. Our analysis found that 70% of the Legislature accepts campaign contributions directly from oil companies or from oil industry Political Action Committees. And, 60% of Democrats and 100% of Republicans take these dollars.  

These numbers back up what we see on the ground. This past year, corporate polluters defeated a bill (AB 1080/SB 54) that would have addressed single-use plastics – a significant and growing source of carbon emissions. Legislation to stop oil companies from drilling near homes and schools (AB 345) died in committee. You know something is wrong when a bill to stop pollution near where kids play and learn doesn’t even move forward in the legislative process.   

One bright spot this past year was two executive orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom. One set a goal to protect 30% of our land and water by 2030 – a benchmark that has since been adopted by the Biden administration. The other requires that by 2035 all new passenger vehicles sold in the state will be zero-emission. This bold action recognizes that the transportation sector is responsible for more than half of all of California’s carbon pollution. 

Despite all that we experienced last year and a lack of leadership and collaboration between the Legislature and governor, I’m still hopeful that California can once more lead the nation and world with climate solutions. We’ve done it before, and we have to do it again. Our collective future depends on it. To meet this challenge, we must: 

  • Develop a comprehensive climate action plan that is equitable and just. We’re looking to the governor, the Senate President Pro Tempore and Assembly speaker to rally our state around a common agenda aligned with the 2030 scientific deadline.
  • Help our workforce transition away quickly and securely from fossil fuel industries to family-sustaining jobs in clean energy, like offshore wind.
  • Fund projects that will help California’s communities and landscapes become more resilient to the impacts of a changing climate.
  • Hold corporations accountable for their role in the climate crisis. Since 1988, 100 companies have been responsible for more than 70% of the world’s industrial carbon emissions.

This is more than we’ve needed to ask for from our leaders in the past, and it will take tapping into a collective vision and courage like never before. This must be a decisive decade of action and a time of transformative change from top to bottom. 

And while this is a huge challenge it’s also an incredible opportunity. It’s an opportunity to reimagine our state in a way that’s more equitable and just. It’s an opportunity to create a global roadmap for action. 

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Mary Creasman has also written about achieving real change after the election and how a new era of clean transportation requires new leadership.

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