The Hot Zone

California a bright spot on climate change policy

Posted by Alison Hawkes on November 5, 2010
Category : The Politics of Climate Change

This week’s election results probably have a lot of climate folks holed up in denial or commiserating around water coolers. But there was at least one bright spot on the political landscape.

Californians turned down a proposition on the ballot that would have stripped away the state’s climate change legislation, which is the most robust and influential in the nation, not least because it impacts a state whose economy rivals that of France.

The Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, and sets 2020 as a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, a roughly 15-20 percent reduction over today’s levels.

The legislation has spurred significant growth in the green tech sectors, with green jobs growing 10 times faster than other state averages and attracting nearly $9 billion in venture capital that has created many new businesses in the Golden State.

Many in the green tech industry and green policy makers were very worried that if the proposition passed, the steam driving such growth would escape elsewhere, allowing China or Europe to advance as California stagnated.

But more than 60 percent of California voters said ‘no,’ making this instance perhaps the largest referendum in the country on climate change. The results — that is for those who believe in climate change — were encouraging.

It might have had to do with Californians revolting against the idea of Texas control (much of the funding behind the proposition came from out-of-state oil companies). Or it could have been the advocacy of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was out of front and central in the debate. Tweeting on election night, he egged voters to use the same zeal they put to the World Series games (in which the San Francisco Giants trounced the Texas Rangers) to their dedication to the polls.

A rally against Prop 23 in Los Angeles. Photo: Danny Duarte, Faultybox

“We beat Texas last night and now we’re here getting pumped up to beat Texas on Prop 23 tonight,” he tweet at precisely 8:43 pm on election night.

No matter what the reason, Californians stuck to their guns on climate change. With the wider American public seemingly unconvinced — at least with any enthusiasm — California may seem like an anomaly.

But big things get launched out there (just consider the expansion of computer technology into every aspect of our lives). Many have been saying that California’s law will have a spill-over effect on other states, paving the way for others to take action while the federal government still debates the issue. And California will be testing ground for new ideas — including a cap and trade market to begin in 2012 that will set limits on greenhouse gas emissions by the state’s major polluters.

The science behind climate change is mounting. But public policy also needs to be probed. California could provide the kind of case study needed to see what works and what doesn’t.

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