As part of the Sacramento Bee’s California Influencer series, a group of us met in Sacramento last week to offer some thoughts to California’s incoming leadership in the area of energy and the environment. Our recommendations begin with the obvious and inescapable: Climate change is upon us and requires action now.
Climate change is real. There is no longer any point in dividing along the lines of climate change “believers’ vs. climate change “deniers.” But there are legitimate questions about what responses are most effective and which levels of government should address them. Demonizing opponents won’t solve problems.
Some responses are simple. California needs to continue its drive to produce 100 percent of its electricity through renewable sources. This state is an international leader in this area, and it must continue to lead, particularly at a time when Washington refuses to do so.
But even producing all our electricity through renewables is not enough. It leaves significant parts of our economy reliant on fossil fuels, particularly in the area of transportation. Our group produced a number of recommendations there.
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Among them: California’s new governor and legislators should fund the Veloz program, a modest effort to reassure Californians about the utility of electric vehicles. The state should consider using the Highway 99 corridor as a model of electrification, and it should support innovation that helps bring down the price point of electric cars and other green technologies. The state should be a leader in the area of autonomous vehicles, supporting research into their safety as well as their utility. And, as the tragic fires this week remind us, government must also support efforts to combat the effects of climate change: sea-level rise, heat waves and, sadly, wildfires. These are not problems of forestry management; they are the direct consequences of a warming planet.
Members of our group expressed serious concerns for equity in all these areas. Even bringing down the price point of electric vehicles will not make them affordable to all. Government should invest in electric fleets for public transportation and continue and expand programs that single out the poor for rebates and benefits that will allow them to join in the state’s adoption of new technologies.
Moreover, confronting these questions will cause real disruptions, and we should not proceed without addressing those effects. Drivers, for instance, represent one of the nation’s largest working groups, and their work is headed toward extinction. As one member of our group noted, it is important that California become not just a consumer of green technologies but also a producer. As a producer, California will have jobs to offer those who are dislocated by these changes in our energy usage.
Finally, we put several long-term questions to Gov.-elect Newsom and the new Legislature. These won’t be solved today or tomorrow, but they deserve our leadership’s full attention.
First: What is California’s path toward ending oil extraction in this state? That would include the end of fracking and offshore oil drilling; not tomorrow, but someday – the sooner, the better.
Second, California needs a long-term vision for its water infrastructure, from a discussion of the proposed tunnels to transport water south to the more basic work of hardening water mains and pipes in cities and communities. The emphasis should be first on conservation, then on recycling and -- only last -- on transport.
Third and finally, will California commit to the eventual prohibition of the sale of new gas-burning cars? This may seem ambitious, but nine countries today have enacted or are preparing to enact such bans. California will not be the first to take this historic step. Nor should it be the last.