Our View: Gov. Brown, California take lead on climate change

Saying that “we have to adapt,” California Gov. Jerry Brown has been pushing hard for solutions to climate change.
Saying that “we have to adapt,” California Gov. Jerry Brown has been pushing hard for solutions to climate change. The Sacramento Bee

California, as Gov. Jerry Brown says, is on the front lines of the climate change battle.

The nation should consider itself lucky. If it were up to Congress, it’s unclear whether anyone would have the courage to lead the charge.

The last couple of months have brought a barrage of alarms on the devastating impact of global warming, not just in the future, but right here and right now. For those unconvinced by, say, the National Climate Assessment or the United Nations’ climate change experts, there were the “firenados” that exploded last week across San Diego County. There is the extreme drought – predicted by models that climate scientists provided years ago – that has dried up our reservoirs. There are the heat waves that have become increasingly hotter.

For those who hoped Congress might actually do something about it, there was the inability, also last week, to pass even a small-bore bill to make energy efficiency cheaper for consumers.

So while Washington fiddles and Camp Pendleton burns, California has been pushing hard for solutions. It’s a team effort that has required sacrifice at all levels.

This weekend, Brown took to national TV to drive home the point he made again Monday to scientists in Sacramento: that the climate is changing, and “we have to adapt.”

The governor has put his money where his mouth is, calling for long-term solutions on water and transportation and resisting pressure to back down on the state’s cap-and-trade program. He has gotten other states, such as Washington, to join him in regional efforts. He has reached out internationally, stumping in China and, later this summer, in Mexico, for greenhouse gas reductions.

Californians, too, have stepped up, replacing gas guzzlers with zero-emission vehicles and hybrids and tearing up grassy lawns for drought-tolerant landscapes. On Tuesday, a new statewide utilities initiative, Energy Upgrade California, took aim at even more granular levels of energy and water usage, from outdated water heaters to those second fridges that Californians love to keep in their garages. Not that we mind. (We’ll get over it.)

Conservation has become a California tradition and a way of life. Just look at the latest university we built – UC Merced – and its emphasis on solar energy and energy efficiency. Look at the micro-drip irrigation systems we’ve installed and methane digesters that produce electricity. Even our car washes use recycled water. Finding bold solutions to big problems is our core competency.

But we can’t do it alone, and we shouldn’t have to. Other states have ideas, and if Congress won’t act, they should join California in coordinating climate change solutions. It’s going to be a long, hot summer. There’s room for more than one front-line governor on national TV.