Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke made a stop in Modesto to discuss ideas for combating climate change with a panel at Modesto Junior College.
That was hours after the Democratic presidential candidate announced a $5 trillion proposal at Yosemite National Park for keeping a global rise in temperatures from threatening human habitation on planet Earth.
O’Rourke called climate change the “most important challenge that we face, not just as a country but as human beings ... The welfare of our kids, our grandkids and every generation that succeeds us is at stake right now,” said O’Rourke on his first visit to California since announcing his run for president last month.
O’Rourke looked at an irrigation demonstration project at MJC’s west campus before motoring to the school’s east campus for a roundtable with representatives of state and local government, agriculture, social justice groups and academia. The panelists sat at picnic tables to talk with O’Rourke outside the agricultural science classrooms.
His climate plan includes $1.5 trillion in federal funding, while seeking to incentivize an additional $3.5 trillion from states, private capital and other sources over 10 years to improve aging infrastructure nationwide and to help communities prepare for floods, droughts, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Like others in the packed field of Democrats seeking the White House in 2020, O’Rourke promised to sign climate change-fighting executive orders on the first day of his presidency, including rejoining the 2016 Paris Agreement.
Central Valley agriculture could participate in the broad array of solutions for combating climate change through land management and regenerative practices that keep carbon locked up in the soil.
The Modesto panel discussed shifts in water management that could protect the precious resource from the impacts of warming temperatures.
Noah Hughes, an MJC earth science professor, said additional water storage is important for California, but that could be done more effectively with storage in the ground. The best areas for recharging aquifers under the Valley should be identified, he said. Flood irrigation of certain Valley crops could increase winter recharge.
Couper Condit, a representative for State Assemblyman Heath Flora, sitting next to O’Rourke, said Ceres and other Valley cities are increasingly challenged with meeting drinking water standards in their wells. Condit is a planning commissioner for Ceres, which is involved in a project to secure treated water from the Tuolumne River.
O’Rourke, a liberal Texan, who was born and raised in El Paso, is verbally suited for campaigning in the multilingual communities of the Valley. He answered a reporter’s question on Central American asylum seekers in English and then in Spanish for Latino media.
O’Rourke said he wants to make sure the federal government follows laws that permit people to seek asylum, if the country they are fleeing can no longer protect their lives.
He criticized a current administration practice of holding children in cages and separating them from parents. The best way forward, he said, is “investing in solutions diplomatically and (using) the resources of the northern triangle in Central America so there are fewer reasons that cause families to flee in the first place.”
On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a water resilience portfolio to address climate change impacts on the state’s enormous system for storing and delivering water to communities and agriculture . The governor ordered the California Natural Resources Agency and Department of Food and Agriculture to reassess the priorities in the 2016 California Water Action Plan.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, re-emphasized his bill introduced earlier this year to require the Department of Water Resources to quantify statewide storage capacity and identify threats posed by climate change. His legislation proposes ways to mitigate the impacts of climate warming.
“I don’t expect Gov. Newsom and I to agree on every detail of a water plan, but I appreciate that he is not afraid to have the difficult conversations that we must have in order to get one,” Gray said. “The governor’s executive order today is a critical starting point to get everyone to the table and to put those who would rather ignore this problem on notice.”
The Associate Press contributed to this report.