Climate Change Trendsetting in California

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California is constantly a trendsetter – from Hollywood movies to Silicon Valley, the Golden State is always on the cutting edge – pioneering trends that come into vogue across the nation and all over the world.

Leading the fight against climate change is no exception.  While the effort to develop national climate policies has been stalled by special interests and dominated by anti-science rants, California has successfully developed a suite of innovative climate programs to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean cars, healthier communities, and forest conservation and restoration.  The latest accomplishment in this effort is California’s adoption of the nation’s first multi-industry program to limit carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases through a market driven system.

California made a commitment to pursue a low carbon, sustainable future when it passed its 2006 “Global Warming Solutions Act” which is also known as Assembly Bill 32 or “AB32”.  California voters affirmed their support of the Act in 2010 when an effort to repeal AB32 was soundly rejected by 59% of the voters. The repeal initiative was fueled with funding from Texas oil companies -- Valero and Tesoro -- and from a company funded by Charles and David Koch, billionaire tea-party backers who amassed their fortune mainly in the oil business and are not anxious to have to start paying for their polluting ways.  The Wilderness Society joined other environmental and public health organizations, businesses, like Google and Applied Materials, and individuals, like Bill Gates and James Cameron, who supported AB32 against the repeal initiative.

California’s new program requires polluters to pay for the greenhouse gases they dump into the air and sets an overall limit, or ‘cap’, on greenhouse gas emissions from covered sectors.  The program is modeled on a successful federal program that used a cost-effective, market based approach to reduce the sulfur dioxide from power plants which was causing acid rain, damaging public health, and killing fish in our lakes and streams.  In the California program, large industrial facilities and electric power plants will be covered starting in 2013 and distributors of transportation fuels, natural gas and other fuels will be included in the program starting in 2015.  Each year polluters must acquire allowances equivalent to the level of emissions for which they are responsible.  If they are able to reduce their actual emissions below the amount of allowances they hold, they can sell excess allowances to other polluters.  Thus the program provides flexibility for individual facilities to find the most cost-effective methods of meeting annual targets while ensuring that the overall limits are reduced over time.  The funds generated from the sale of allowances will be used to further California’s climate goals and may go toward investments to help communities and wild places struggling with the effects of climate change such as loss of snowpack in the Sierras, more catastrophic wildfires, sea level rise, droughts or extreme heat events.

The Wilderness Society has joined the fight against carbon pollution because we know that healthy forests and pristine wildlands are a crucial pivot point for fighting climate change.  We must keep our natural systems as strong and healthy as possible - so they can adapt to a warming world while continuing to provide clean water, clean air, flood protection, and food security.  And these same forests and wildlands store excess carbon out of the atmosphere for decades and, in old-growth forests, for centuries, giving us all more time to get emissions under control.

The Wilderness Society continues to work closely with the State of California to develop sustainable climate policies that protect and restore wild areas, reduce carbon pollution that threatens wildlands and ecosystems, and improve the health and resiliency of climate-stressed lands.

The Wilderness Society has been working with the State of California on the following climate policy issues:

  • Protecting forests: Forests trap and store carbon dioxide and play a major role in moderating climate change.  While many new climate policies are aimed at providing new incentives for forest protection, restoration, and improved forest management - some policies, like bioenergy policies have the potential to create adverse impacts on forests if improperly designed.  The Wilderness Society is working both to promote the important role of forests protection and restoration in climate policy development and to ensure that climate policies are sustainably designed.
  • Funding restoration: The Wilderness Society is working on efforts to channel some of the funds from the cap-and-trade program towards restoring California’s wetlands, forests, deserts and rangelands to better protect them from the effects of climate change and ensure that they can continue playing their important role in flood protection, carbon sequestration, and providing habitat for increasingly climate-stressed species.
  • Siting renewable energy away from sensitive areas: Clean, renewable energy has an important role to play in achieving a lower carbon future that is beneficial for wild lands.  The Wilderness Society is active in supporting responsible energy development that is sited away from critical habitat and ecosystems.

Theodore Roosevelt knew nothing of the dangers of climate change, but he was prescient when he said “There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon in the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever with their majestic beauty unmarred.” The Wilderness Society is working to ensure that California succeeds in leading the way to lower carbon pollution and that the values of public lands and forests are respected along the way.   California’s trendsetting ways provide a powerful model for the rest of the nation – and the world – for how to utilize a broad combination of policies and the free market to help protect and restore wildlands in the fight against carbon pollution and the ever growing climate crisis.

Did you enjoy this article?  Here is other reading you may find interesting:

Front page New York Times article discussing the role of forests in fighting climate change and the need to save forests from the sweeping threats of climate change by fighting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy outlining impacts, risks and strategies relating to the state’s resources in forests, fresh water, ocean and coastal resources, and biodiversity and habitat.

Are you interested in The Wilderness Society’s work on California climate policies?  Check out these links:

The Wilderness Society’s comment letters on the California cap-and-trade regulation:

The Wilderness Society’s comment letter on biomass sustainability and the California Low Carbon Fuels regulation.

The Wilderness Society’s comment letter on biomass reporting in the California regulation for the mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Wilderness Society's Comment letter on forests and the Adaptive Management Plan for the California cap-and-trade regulation.

Do you want to get involved in the fight against climate change?  Here are ways to join the fight:

Visit the Cal-Adapt interactive website to learn more about climate change and climate research and tools. The Cal-Adapt website will soon feature community based features that will allow you to ask questions of a climate expert and contribute your own knowledge to help monitor changes in the landscape over time, including sharing your photos.

Join our WildAlert network to receive timely communications concerning public policy opportunities and threats to the enduring health of our wildlands in a warming world.

Donate and become a member of The Wilderness Society to protect wilderness forever or give a major gift of $5,000 or more earmarked for climate policy work – by contacting Moira Chapin at 415.398.1111 x103