Following California’s Lead: We Need To Fire On All Cylinders To Address The Climate Crisis

by Kate Gordon, via Center for the Next Generation

Lately I’ve been thinking about climate and energy work as a kind of two-cylinder engine.  One cylinder is firing away on energy, working to bring down the cost of alternative energy and fuels and bring them to scale.  The other is working on the bigger problem of what, exactly, we’re going to do to stop the climate crisis that’s set to crash down on us in just 16 years (according to Bill McKibben) or as little as 50 months (according to last week’s letter in the Guardian).

This past week, it seems like both cylinders were in operation.  Some news from the energy side: nationwide, the 1 millionth home was retrofitted under the Weatherization Assistance Program, which received a huge boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  In California alone, state energy efficiency programs administered by the California Public Utilities Commission saved enough energy to power over 600,000 homes – enough, as my friends at NRDC write, to save the state from building two new power plants.  And last Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed 19 bills into law that will help the state stay at the forefront of the advanced energy economy.   These range from a measure to help streamline the permitting process for installing rooftop solar systems – a huge potential market for our sunny state – to one opening the door to a new biogas market in the state.

The two AB32-related bills we’ve been tracking in past weeks, AB1532 and SB535, were also signed by the Governor.  I won’t go into detail on these again (see this past Digest if you’re hungry for more), but the upshot is that we now have a basic framework for how revenues from the state’s cap and trade program will be spent after the Nov. 14 auction – and we know a big chunk of them will be spent on moving renewable and efficient energy programs forward throughout the state, and especially in disadvantaged communities.

And on the climate side, the world seems to be waking up to the reality of the crisis facing us. Earlier this month, Australia joined the European Union’s carbon trading market.  Just today, China and the E.U. announced their own climate deal, which includes China’s commitment to designing a carbon market.  According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, these three regions – the E.U., China, and Australia – account for a staggering 41 percent of global carbon emissions. That’s one big carbon market – and it’s one California is exploring entering as well, as we begin discussions with Australia about potentially linking up those two markets as well, which would of course lead to a link with the E.U. and China too.

Seems like both cylinders of that climate/energy engine are finally firing, at least in California and across the ocean.  Isn’t it about time this country jumped on board?

Kate Gordon is Director of the Advanced Energy and Sustainability Program at the Center for the Next Generation. This piece was cross-posted from the AB32 Digest, the Center for the Next Generation’s weekly roundup of news on California’s landmark climate change law.  To read or subscribe to the AB32 Digest here.

8 Responses to Following California’s Lead: We Need To Fire On All Cylinders To Address The Climate Crisis

  1. So this big Australian-E.U.-Chinese carbon exchange…how does it actualy work? I keep getting mixed signals on about all three entities, especially Australia and China.

    Austrlia, for example, has a new federal energy policy but at the same time is planning to ship enough coal to China to obviate any benefit from its own decarbonization iniatives. (Remember, global warming is global.) China is building more solar panels than anybody and is also burning more, and dirtier coal than anybody. (And China now wants to get in on the “Arctic Gold Rush” so it can get its hands on more fossil fuels — you don’t want to be outdone by the Russians when it comes to fouling the atmosphere!)

    What’t the bottom line? The net result? Will this new carbon exchange make enough of a dent in the world’s GG emissions to give us a realistic shot at staying under under 2-3°C? (Assuming the U.S. enters the market.) Or is it just another opportunity for speculators to line their pockets but try to look good as the planet burns?


  2. Leif says:

    Society needs to look at the Green Awakening Economy not as a Government Mandate on the people, rather as a People Mandate on the government. The People of California did just that and guess what, GOVERNMENT is RESPONDING! The West Coast is in the process including B.C.

    Ecotopia lives! And in the process of coming of age…

  3. Ken Barrows says:

    That’s funny; I thought we had to fire on FEWER cylinders.

  4. Joe says:

    I suppose the need to set a “date”, ie., the “line in the sand” is necessary in order for humans to finally realize just how late in the game it is, but the claim that we have “50 months” is clearly wrong. Mckibbens claim that we have “16 years” is so far off the mark as to be laughable if this wasn’t such a serious issue.

    This graph clearly shows why such claims are actually absurd:

    This and many other examples show that the opportunity to stave off more then 2C warming is already long gone and literally, “never to return” as far as humans are concerned.

    We may not have achieve 2C total warming yet — but we most assuredly will as the albedo effect, climate inertia and ocean absorption and increasing methane release and C02 contributions all continue to increase.

    Just consider the sheer amount of ice now lost (and how fast this happened) to gain some idea how far off the mark these claims all are.

    It’s actually quite ridiculous to go on claiming we are going to EVER manage to stay below 2C — when we are already on track for 4C and even 6C of additional warming.

    We don’t have 16 years, or 50 months, we don’t even have 12. We are already out of time and continue to ridiculously “debate” how must “time we have left” when there is plenty of ample evidence that we will greatly exceed tolerable levels.

  5. Omega Centauri says:

    I haven’t any insider information, but I’d say it is useful as a starter seed. That seed will require watering to reach a scale where it can make a real difference. So its an organizational experiment and precedent available to be copied, rather than a significant reduction by itself.

  6. Tami Kennedy says:

    One of the most import numbers I see in the article is the 41 percent. The mechanics of implementing the carbon management need to be worked out but it is a recognition is something needs to be done. California again takes a lead in a national issue. Hopefully it is a lead that the nation will follow. And per capita the U.S. is the global bad guy. A chunk of the bad guy has taken some action. The remaining chunk is pretty heavy. The GOP is trying to fight with a better anchor against the progress denying environment change with coal getting relief.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    You speak my mind.

    We need to run on both feet [instead of hopping on one or the other].

    Ditch the combustion engine as a failed metaphor for functionality.

  8. Sami says:

    Yes, this reminds me of on line from Jon Stewart; “We are an unstoppable oil-dependency-breaking machine! Unfortunately, the machine runs on oil.” ;)