Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch , a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.
It was a shot heard around the world. And, like the original volley at the 1775 battle of Lexington Green, this new blast signifies the start of a grassroots rebellion—in this case, an historic uprising against global warming and its human causes.
I am referring, of course, to the landmark action by the state of California to curb global warming pollution.
After weeks of intense negotiations, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-led state legislature agreed on a bipartisan plan to slash the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a cut of about 25 percent from today's levels.
Other states should emulate this trend-setting model until there’s a big change in attitude from the federal government, which is in the clutches of hopeless reactionaries on this topic.
Of course, it’s nothing new for California to be the vanguard of pollution control. It was the first to require catalytic converters for cars, cleaner gasoline and many other innovative cleanup strategies. In the process, the Golden State has been a laboratory for innovation, repeatedly proving wrong the naysayers who predicted that cleanup would mean economic disaster.
But this time, as the Sacramento Bee noted, California “is making a quantum leap.” The mission statement of the Global Warming Solutions Act “is nothing short of revolutionary”:
Placing California at the forefront of national and international efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Since California produces only a tiny fraction of the world’s emissions, the Bee astutely observed, “Other states, even nations, would have to follow California's lead to make any measurable difference.”
Some states have already begun dipping their toes in the shallow end of the pool. For instance, the governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and four New England states have signed an agreement to curb power-plant emissions. In addition, 10 states have adopted California standards to reduce global warming pollution from motor vehicles—standards that the auto industry is fighting tooth and nail in court.
But these other states will probably need to adopt the even more aggressive new California strategy if we are to make real progress against global warming.
Indeed, it may take that sort of widespread rebellion to prompt change at the national level. Consider the key federal players who have bottled up any effort in Washington, D.C. to limit greenhouse gas emissions:
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who declared in 2001 that "as long as I am chairman, [regulating global warming pollution] is off the table indefinitely. I don't want there to be any uncertainty about that."
His Senate counterpart, James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” (Predictably, Inhofe was quick to slam the new California standards as a “job-killer.” And, predictably, Inhofe was wrong. According to a recent study conducted by University of California
, Berkeley economists, the new California law could boost the state’s economy by more than $60 billion and create as many as 89,000 new jobs by the year 2020.)
The White House, where President Bush has relentlessly promoted “voluntary” approaches to emission control—even as greenhouse gas emissions have increased every year on his watch.
Environmental advocates should be on guard lest these and other defenders of the polluter status quo try to devise some method of blocking other states from adopting the California plan. The White House is already and outrageously trying to undermine the right of California—and by extension, other states—to adopt motor vehicle standards for global warming pollution.
It is possible to close one’s eyes and dream of change in the not-too-distant future:
Imagine a Congress controlled by the Democrats, and a lame-duck president eager to leave a more positive legacy on global warming rather than being remembered as the oil man who resisted any and all efforts to limit emissions...
In the meantime, however, the action is at the state level. And it is a safe bet that polluter industry lobbyists will be out in force to torpedo new emission limits.
The California breakthrough took place in part because some business leaders—notably Peter Darbee, head of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company—were willing to step out of the industry pack and see a cleaner future.
It may take more business visionaries like Darbee to promote progress in other states until D.C. gets its Houses in order.