It turns out Gov. Jerry Brown wasn’t kidding when he suggested two years ago that California might “launch its own damn satellite” in defiance of federal climate change policies.
As the Democratic governor comes to the end of a historic fourth term in office, he announced a new state initiative Friday to develop a satellite that can track climate pollutants with greater precision and support more targeted efforts to fight climate change worldwide.
“In California, with science under attack, in fact we’re under attack by a lot of people, including Donald Trump, but the climate threat still keeps growing,” Brown said in his closing remarks at the Global Climate Action Summit, a conference he hosted this week in San Francisco encouraging regional governments and businesses to adopt stronger policies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
“So, we want to know, what the hell is going on all over the world, all the time?” Brown said. “So we’re going to launch our own satellite, our own damn satellite, to figure out where the pollution is and how we’re going to end it, with great precision.”
In a press release, the governor’s office said the California Air Resources Board would be developing technology capable of detecting the “point source” of carbon dioxide emissions and other climate pollutants that linger in the atmosphere, trapping in heat and warming the Earth’s surface.
The program is a partnership with Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based company that operates Earth-imaging satellites. California plans to make data collected by the satellite publicly available.
“This initiative will enable us to spotlight the methane, the pollution, and then be able to be in a position to point out those who pollute and then develop the remedies to end it,” Brown said. “We will fight the climate challenge and we will succeed.”
Brown initially raised the idea of the satellite nearly two years ago, speaking to a conference of scientists shortly after the election of President Donald Trump.
With news of proposed budget cuts under the new presidential administration that could have effectively eliminated Earth-observing satellites used to monitor the effects of climate change, Brown promised to defy the federal government.
“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” he said in December 2016. “We’re going to collect that data.”
Brown noted in the same speech that he proposed California launch its own communications satellite during his first stint as governor in the late 1970s, an idea that helped earn him the nickname “Gov. Moonbeam.”
In an email, spokesman Stanley Young said the Air Resources Board “will receive and distribute satellite observations and convene partners to convert the data to action.”
Young said no state money would be used for the project, but California “plans to provide in-kind contributions and possible additional resources to assure data access and to facilitate appropriate emission reductions.” The Overlook International Foundation and the Grantham Foundation have provided initial funding, he added, and further fundraising is expected to complete the project.
California’s goal is to launch the satellite by 2021, with data available beginning in 2022.
“CARB has funded activities over the past decade to test and apply various technologies to detect greenhouse gas emission sources, including super emitters, in California. The goal is to port these detection technologies onto the satellite,” Young said.
Brown simultaneously made a secondary commitment to share the satellite data with governments, businesses, landowners and others around the world through a common platform developed in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund.
The nonprofit environmental advocacy organization announced in April its own plans to launch a satellite by 2021 to collect data on global methane emissions from oil and gas fields. President Fred Krupp said in an interview that the projects could complement each other.
“Once we find where the big plumes of methane are coming from, they’ll be able to zero in,” Krupp said.