NEWS An Earth Day message for California: Move faster on climate change

imageLos Ange­les Times

by Sammy Roth

For the orig­i­nal, click here.

If there’s one thing to under­stand this Earth Day about California’s role in con­fronting the cli­mate cri­sis, it’s this: Just because the state con­sid­ers itself a global leader doesn’t mean it’s doing nearly enough.

Gov. Gavin New­som admit­ted as much last year. As mon­strous wild­fires carved a path of destruc­tion from the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada to the moun­tains around Los Ange­les — bring­ing smoke-​​choked orange skies to the Bay Area and rain­ing ash to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia — New­som said, “Across the entire spec­trum, our goals are inad­e­quate to the real­ity we’re experiencing.”

We’re going to have to do more, and we’re going to have to fast-​​track our efforts,” New­som told reporters as he stood among freshly charred trees in Oroville. “While it’s nice to have goals to get to 100% clean energy by 2045, that’s inadequate.”

Now lead­ing sci­en­tists are offer­ing the gov­er­nor a far more aggres­sive path forward.

That path is laid out in a not-​​yet-​​published paper (avail­able on arXiv) from a team of researchers led by UC Berkeley’s Daniel Kam­men, whose work for an inter­na­tional cli­mate sci­ence panel helped earn a Nobel Peace Prize. The researchers make the case that Cal­i­for­nia must ratchet up its ambi­tions dra­mat­i­cally, and immediately.

The sci­en­tists call for the state to reduce its planet-​​warming pol­lu­tion nearly 80% by 2030, rather than the cur­rently man­dated 40%, through what they describe as a “a wartime-​​like mobi­liza­tion of resources.”

Why should the Golden State dou­ble its efforts?

The paper rat­tles off a dizzy­ing series of facts about the cli­mate con­se­quences already con­fronting Cal­i­for­ni­ans: 4.3 mil­lion acres burned in 2020, about 4% of the state; nearly $150 bil­lion in health and eco­nomic dam­ages from smaller firestorms two years ear­lier; and con­fla­gra­tions so bad experts didn’t expect to see them for another 30 years. Not to men­tion wors­en­ing droughts, ris­ing seas and hot­ter heat storms that are far dead­lier than many peo­ple real­ize.

And despite the state’s long track record of lead­er­ship in phas­ing out fos­sil fuels, it’s now falling behind, the researchers say.

There’s no bet­ter sign of that than Pres­i­dent Biden — once viewed with extreme skep­ti­cism by cli­mate activists — try­ing to pass an infra­struc­ture bill that sets a national goal of 100% clean elec­tric­ity by 2035, a full decade ahead of California’s target.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers his annual State of the City address from Griffith Observatory on April 19, 2021.

Los Ange­les Mayor Eric Garcetti deliv­ers his annual State of the City address from Grif­fith Obser­va­tory on April 19, 2021.

Los Ange­les Mayor Eric Garcetti endorsed the same 2035 goal in his State of the City address on Mon­day. That fol­lowed the release of a first-​​of-​​its-​​kind study by the fed­er­ally funded National Renew­able Energy Lab­o­ra­tory find­ing L.A. can achieve 98% clean energy as early as 2030, and 100% by 2035, with­out increas­ing the risk of black­outs or dis­rupt­ing the local economy.

Garcetti said in an inter­view that New­som and the state Leg­is­la­ture should “absolutely” fol­low L.A.‘s lead.

This should encour­age Cal­i­for­nia to see that it’s achiev­able every­where. If the biggest city in the state with the largest munic­i­pal util­ity in the coun­try can do this, you can do it too,” Garcetti said.

The rea­son why is obvi­ous. This whole world, gov­ern­ments are miss­ing their goals. Weather events are becom­ing more extreme, and the threat is greater today than it was yes­ter­day,” he said.

There are other exam­ples over­seas of gov­ern­ments pick­ing up the pace.

The United King­dom plans to ban the sale of gas cars by 2030, half a decade ahead of Newsom’s dead­line for Cal­i­for­nia. British Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son recently set a tar­get of slash­ing car­bon emis­sions 68% by 2030, far more aggres­sive than California’s aim. Volvo says it will pro­duce only elec­tric vehi­cles by 2030. Fin­land is aim­ing for a carbon-​​neutral econ­omy by 2035, 10 years ahead of California.

Law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton state also vaulted ahead of Cal­i­for­nia last week, set­ting a goal to end the sale of gas cars by 2030.

There’s a lot going on that we’re not tak­ing advan­tage of,” Kam­men said in an interview.

Kam­men has pre­vi­ously served as a Coor­di­nat­ing Lead Author for the United Nations-​​backed Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change. His coau­thors on the new paper include UC Merced cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Tee­nie Mat­lock; USC soci­ol­o­gist Manuel Pas­tor; UC Santa Bar­bara soci­ol­o­gist David Pel­low, UC San Diego cli­mate sci­en­tist Veer­ab­had­ran Ramanathan; UC Santa Bar­bara polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Leah Stokes; and Tom Steyer, the bil­lion­aire cli­mate activist who ran for the Demo­c­ra­tic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion last year.

The group used a mod­el­ing tool devel­oped by the Cli­mate Cen­ter, a Santa Rosa-​​based non­profit, to ana­lyze how much the Golden State could cut emis­sions over the next nine years with­out caus­ing energy costs to rise sig­nif­i­cantly. They deter­mined a reduc­tion of 77% below 1990 lev­els was fea­si­ble, largely because solar pan­els, wind tur­bines and bat­ter­ies are get­ting so cheap.

We didn’t work back from a tar­get. We worked for­ward from what are the cur­rent price declines we’re see­ing on the renew­able and stor­age side,” Kam­men said in an inter­view. “The 80% comes in at a sweet spot, where the prices don’t rise that much.”

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Pine Tree Wind and Solar Farm in the Tehachapi Mountains of Kern County.

The Los Ange­les Depart­ment of Water and Power’s Pine Tree Wind and Solar Farm in the Tehachapi Moun­tains of Kern County.

What would those changes look like in practice?

Under one path­way laid out in the paper, which is being reviewed by the jour­nal Envi­ron­men­tal Research Let­ters, Cal­i­for­nia would need to reach 100% clean elec­tric­ity by 2030. That would require build­ing new infra­struc­ture — includ­ing lots of off­shore wind tur­bines — at a pace Kam­men described as “a bit scary.” Emis­sions from trans­porta­tion, the largest source of cli­mate pol­lu­tion, would need to fall by 70% in nine years, almost cer­tainly neces­si­tat­ing an end to the sale of gas cars some­time this decade.

It’s really designed to be a wake-​​up call,” Kam­men said.

There’s lit­tle ques­tion a wake-​​up call is needed.

The National Oceanic and Atmos­pheric Admin­is­tra­tion reported this month that con­cen­tra­tions of car­bon diox­ide and methane, the two most impor­tant green­house gases, reached record lev­els in 2020, ris­ing rapidly despite a pan­demic that slowed the global econ­omy. The planet is already 1.2 degrees Cel­sius warmer than it was before the Indus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, near­ing the 1.5 degrees that sci­en­tists have set as a tar­get for staving off dan­ger­ous tip­ping points.




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