In summary

Gov. Newsom recognizes that our current climate targets are inadequate. We have the technology ready to go. Here is a checklist:

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By Dan Jacobson, Special to CalMatters

Dan Jacobson is state director of Environment California,

Like most Californians, I have not seen blue skies for weeks. The dirty air I’m breathing hurts my lungs and stings my eyes. My kids are confined to the indoors to protect their growing lungs, though I’m concerned that even our air indoors contains dangerous pollutants. 

While fire crews work to stop more loss of life and officials work to update plans for the next fire season, California must face the toughest challenge of all: How do we slow and ultimately stop the changes in our climate that are making wildfires in California even more dangerous and deadly? 

Those asserting that our climate will magically “start getting cooler” are dangerously misguided – and we cannot allow Californians to continue to pay for the ignorance of leaders who refuse to follow the science. The disastrous consequences of climate change will only intensify in the future if California doesn’t take bold steps to accelerate the transition off of fossil fuels – starting today.

Californians take pride in all that we’ve done already to slow global warming, but the hard truth is that we have much more work to do. Our planet is getting hotter and more dangerous, and we must stop adding fuel to the fire. 

We appreciate Newsom’s recognition that our current climate targets are inadequate. Here is a checklist of five key solutions that can be implemented right now. 

  1. Clean energy. This past week, the California Energy Commission released draft plans to get to 100% clean electricity by 2030. We should. To generate 100% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030, we need more solar panels, paired with batteries with consistently increasing storage capacity, on our schools. We’ll also need more wind farms off our coasts to generate power. And in the interim, as the state builds up its solar, wind and battery resources, we can all do our part to conserve energy.
  1.  Clean transportation. We should build 1 million electric vehicle charging stations in California by 2030 to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles that’s already under way. We should also set a timeline for all-electric buses and trucks by 2035 – five to 10 years ahead of current plans. California workers and factories are manufacturing these vehicles already. Since this will take a historic effort – and protect our health, wildlife and environment – we should build these with the same urgency with which we built tanks and planes in World War II. 
  1.  Turn our buildings and homes into clean energy generators. California cannot afford to continue to expand its fossil fuel infrastructure – yet every time a building is hooked into the gas system for heating and cooking – that’s what we’re doing. By adding an electric baseline to the California Energy Commission’s 2022 building code, we can ensure new homes and buildings built from 2023 onward will have appliances that run on clean energy – not fossil fuels like gas. Only appliances that run on clean energy should be sold from 2027 onward. In addition, we can make it easier to put solar panels and batteries on residential and commercial properties by offering more money to owners who sell energy back to the grid. 
  1.  Stop drilling for oil and gas. When I was very young, my mother told me: “When the bathtub is overflowing, turn off the water.” Our atmosphere is overflowing with greenhouse gases. We should create “public health protection zones” that forbid oil and gas operations from being within 2,500 feet of homes and other sensitive populations like schools. Furthermore, we should stop issuing permits for new drilling. 
  1. Let nature help. For too long we have fought Mother Nature. But she can still play a leading role in thwarting climate change. Our forests and large bodies of water can be carbon sinks that absorb carbon dioxide from the air. We can plant crops that do the same – even kelp offshore. 

It would be easy to assume we simply need to adapt to crisis rather than mitigate it. The reality is that unless we stop burning fossil fuels, transition to renewable energy and give nature a chance to heal, our world is going to get much hotter and more dangerous, with each “new normal” worse than the one before. We have too much to fight for to let that happen. We can and must do more to create a better world for our children, and there’s no better time to start than right now.

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