More than a decade ago, California’s climate crusade was launched by a man whom many considered an unlikely champion for a liberal cause – Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Schwarzenegger, who was always very conscious that he was a Republican governor in a Democratic state, came out and said science is settled; we know it's happening. We have a good idea what we need to do about it,” remembers San Francisco Chronicle reporter David Baker.
Schwarzenegger created an executive order mandating that California cut its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; that order was made law in 2006. Fast forward to 2017, when Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has established himself as the world-wide “ambassador of climate.” In defiance of the current administration, which has all but abandoned the issue, Brown has announced plans to host a world-wide climate summit next year in San Francisco.
And the rest of the nation – red and blue states alike - is jumping on board. Wind and solar energy are becoming big business in Iowa, Texas and Nevada. Massachusetts, New York and other states are considering going to fifty or even one hundred percent renewable power.
“[Brown] has actually sort of assumed this mantle of leadership, of saying we've got a model in California, it’s up and running,” says Baker. “He's sort of the main game in town nationwide. I don't see anybody else who's done quite as much to basically say ‘no, we're not going backwards.’”
Brown has continued to champion Schwarzenegger’s environmental laws, and in a rare display of bipartisanship, the two sat side by side recently praising the state’s efforts to move the economy away from fossil fuels, just before Brown signed legislation to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program.
But not everyone is happy with Brown’s methods. Parin Shah is with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, which works with underserved communities. He calls cap-and-trade “a bit of a circus side show.
“You know, it catches a lot of attention, it’s kind of interesting,” Shah observes. “It’s where the money is.”
But, he adds, “It's allowing refineries and power plants to continue to pollute. And not just emit atmospheric pollution, but emit local pollution that enters into bodies and causes respiratory as well as other sort of public health issues.”
Shah favors stronger regulations over government concessions to oil companies and big business. And despite rosy pictures being painted about the green economy, he warns, the state’s disadvantaged communities are in danger of being left behind.
“There’s a potential for a green divide in the state, and we don't need to do that,” he maintains. “We can do better when we uplift all Californians: middle income, low income - we uplift everybody. “
– Anny Celsi