Facing the Climate Crisis, Part 2, or “What is California doing?”

California news cycles balloon seasonally with natural disasters that burn towns to the ground and bury our communities in mud. Sea level rise is happening as I type, and it’s not magically going away. Storms and accompanying surges continue to worsen, threatening coastal towns and cities. How do we save them? Droughts starve our crops of water. How do we conserve this dwindling resource? The Camp Fire in 2018, the deadliest wildfire in 100 years, literally changed the weather in its ferocity, along with consuming the town of Paradise. What needs to be done to stop these wildfires? Answers always include stopping the greenhouse emissions. The heart of my inquiry is this burning question: What is California doing to solve this crisis?

Not surprisingly, California is leading the world on a broad range of climate issues. From tough-on-pollution legislation, to an economic platform that pays to keep carbon out of the air, to detailed assessments of where we stand in our fight on multiple fronts such as flooding, wildfires, and sea level rise. We have policies and plans that systematically bring down carbon emissions. California has put its best minds on the task, from the scientists at Stanford and the Hoover Institute, to the aggressive, world-leading policies signed into law by lawmakers committed to facing our challenges head-on.

When it comes to California and the Climate Crisis, there is a complete package of assessment, policy, best practices, evidence-based menus of solutions, and an economy that pays those who shepherd solutions through a system known as Cap and Trade. This is government at its best. A total, integrated system of rewards and deterrents that moves economic behavior in the desired direction. On this issue, California is doing the job government is meant to do.

Having said that, the challenges are daunting. The solutions chosen are at times flawed, or fail to deliver the promised outcomes, and the disasters are relentless in their certainty and ferocity. California sits on the front lines in this fight. We are the proving ground. We are the cauldron of crisis, out of which best practices are forged and hopefully shared and adopted. 

This article is the result of my first deep and serious dive into the issues that underpin the climate crisis. I came to the subject as a newbie, inspired by Greta Thunberg, whom I mentioned in my earlier article. Beyond a vague sense that the climate crisis is complicated and involves the reduction of greenhouse gases, there was very little in my brain to call upon. So I put my “clean slate” to use. I held my breath and jumped off of the high dive, metaphorically speaking. 

The information I filtered dropped into one of four categories: California successes, natural disasters, human contributions to the climate crisis, and obstruction and withdrawal of resources by the federal government. It turns out that each of these categories deserves its own separate investigation. For this piece I focused on what the State of California is doing to mitigate the climate crisis, leaving the other topics for a later date.

Most of the references link back to government web pages and reports. It’s important to get as close to the source of information as possible. I reference other, non-government articles when the point of the piece is to illuminate what California is doing. 

I use “we” frequently. I do this because we are all in this together. And we are citizens of California. And this is about our lives and this is about our government. My disclaimer: I am in no way actually part of the government. I am a citizen journalist doing my best to make sense of this crazy world. So let’s dive in together.

California Successes are a mix of policies, assessments, trade practices, locating and fixing leaks, and offering up evidence-based solutions for mitigating the climate crisis. Here is where we stand.

Climate Legislation

We got it! We have enacted laws. We lead the world. On this, you can be proud to be a Californian. In 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law SB 100. This law, combined with an executive order, establishes our emissions target. Our goal is to get at or below the 1990 emissions levels: First milestone is a 50% emissions reduction by 2025, 60 percent by 2030, and if we can pull it off, a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2045.

There are other laws passed and pending that continue to meet or exceed those targets. To get a complete list of legislation, click here.

The Fourth Assessment

California has been assessing climate impact for years. The First Assessment was released in 2006. Click here to see the History of the Assessments. The Fourth Assessment is the most recent, arriving on the scene in August 2018. This Assessment details new science on the devastating impacts of climate change and provides planning tools to support the state’s response.  The Fourth Assessment describes itself this way:

“The compilation of original climate research includes 44 technical reports and 13 summary reports on climate change impacts to help ready the state for a future punctuated by severe wildfires, more frequent and longer droughts, rising sea levels, increased flooding, coastal erosion and extreme heat events. The peer-reviewed research translates global models into scaled-down, regionally relevant reports to fill information gaps and support decisions at the local, regional and state levels”

Unlike the United States, California is actively assessing and creating policy and procedures and public works based on the data. 

Cap and Trade

Apply capitalism to the Climate Crisis and you get Cap and Trade. So what is it? Here is an example. Carbon, the major emissions culprit, is captured through such things as forests. Cap and Trade brings a monetary value to growing a forest by paying to keep the forest untouched. The stewards who own and care for the forest sells the forest’s continued existence to a polluting company that is still transitioning towards zero-emissions. Polluters pay for the privilege of continuing to pollute while good climate stewards are paid for their stewardship.

Cap and Trade inspires creative ways to mitigate climate issues by rewarding the capture of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, and gives value to things that are measured in currencies other than money. For the first time, people and communities are being paid for their best climate crisis reversal practices. 

Detractors of Cap and Trade point out that the system continues to reward polluters by allowing them to continue their polluting ways. Clearly, this is a valid concern that should be, and often is, addressed by stringent legislation, but Cap and Trade provides incentives for solutions, something we sorely need. 

Climate Focused Agencies

California has a handful of agencies that oversee and inform our policies, programs and enforcement regarding pollution and the climate crisis. The following three are the best first places to start. What we know and what we are doing as the Great State of California is all right here.

California Air Resources Board: CARB “is charged with protecting the public from the harmful effects of air pollution and developing programs and actions to fight climate change. From requirements for clean cars and fuels to adopting innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, California has pioneered a range of effective approaches that have set the standard for effective air and climate programs for the nation, and the world.” It is leading the world in how we think about public health and air pollution. From policy to education to enforcement, CARB is the face of the government of California when it comes to dirty air.

California Coastal Commission: The CCC offers a science-oriented treasure trove of information on how towns and coastal residents can address sea level rise and other climate crisis issues. This is a site worthy of investigation if you live on or near the coast. The website is easy to navigate and is dense with information and solutions.

Berkeley Climate Policy Dashboard: This is by far the most interesting place to go for all things “climate crisis” in California. The Climate Policy Dashboard “seeks to provide a concise, easy-to-use overview of some of the major California climate laws and programs and introduce readers to some of the state regulators responsible for implementing them… By compiling and regularly updating information on certain key state policies and actors, we hope to provide both casual readers and researchers with straightforward access to the full scope of California’s ambitious climate change programs and goals.”

If you decide to take action around becoming informed, start here. It’s a worthy portal to all things relating to California and the climate crisis.

Pollution Detection and Use of Satellites

One of the most exciting developments around reduction of methane gas emissions, a pollutant responsible for a large percentage of greenhouse gases, is the detection and location of emissions through the use of satellites combined with ground monitoring.  CARB teamed up with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Emery University to gather, analyze and report pollution. Using the CMS (Carbon Monitoring System), a NASA project, California was able to get the satellite detection they were hoping for. 

For example, this team assembled 15 years of data looking at Southern California. With this satellite data, they were able to locate methane emissions, which are often due to leaks. Once a leak is located, it can be fixed. Combine this with the technological advances made in ground detection, and you have a formula for revealing what has been hidden: massive amounts of leaks waiting to be fixed.

Just when it seemed like California was getting all the satellite data it needed to track leaks, the White House canceled NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS). Now we can’t measure from space. What we can’t measure, we can’t fix.

California made a promise at the Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018 to build its own pollution monitoring satellite. It seemed for awhile there, that NASA already had what California needed. Now, with the quiet demise of the CMS, California is forced to stand up and act like a country, rather than one of the fifty states. One purpose of government is to serve the people and their large-scale needs. Monitoring carbon in the face of the climate crisis seems a very important use of our national resources. This national purpose now falls on our shoulders. You and I, the California taxpayers, must foot the bill that should be paid for by our nation. 

Final Thoughts

Having made it this far, I can say I am no longer ignorant about the issues, the policies, challenges and the resources that form the foundation of our response to the climate crisis. Today, I am proud to call myself a Californian.

Greta Thunberg opened my eyes to the Climate Crisis, which led me down this path. Because of her, I took action by educating myself and sharing what I have learned with all of you. Greta and all of the ‘School Strike for Climate’ kids continue to inspire me. I realize that Greta is right when she says, “…when you take action, hope is everywhere.” This is my action. And HOPE is everywhere.

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