Editorial: Prop. 23 is wrongheaded about climate change

We’ve heard the frightening predictions before — prolonged drought, higher temperatures, huge wildfires — but here’s one of the most sobering pieces of information to emerge from last week’s local conference on climate change: We’re already seeing the effects.

On account of rising sea levels, plans already are under way to reroute Highway 1 farther inland at Piedras Blancas. Officials also are looking at ways to protect Highway 101 at Shell Beach, since rerouting that section won’t be possible.

We’re glad to hear that local leaders are taking a proactive approach to global warming.

Indeed, we’re proud that California, in general, has been at the forefront in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with passage of the landmark Assembly Bill 32 — the Global Warming Solutions Act.

In a nutshell, it requires California to reduce air emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — a 25 to 30 percent reduction overall. Failure to comply could result in penalties or lawsuits brought by the state attorney general.

But that progress is being threatened by an initiative, Proposition 23, that’s preying on voters’ fears about the economy to turn back the clock.

The measure would suspend AB 32 until unemployment drops to 5.5 or lower for four consecutive quarters. That’s setting the bar way too high; with an unemployment rate over 12 percent, it could be years before we reach that.

What’s more, there is no clear and convincing evidence that jobs will be lost when AB 32 is implemented.

Backers of Proposition 23 say manufacturers will flee the state because of more stringent regulations. Yet supporters of AB 32 say the legislation will encourage more green jobs and the net result will be an increase.

To add to the confusion, each side uses conflicting studies to back their arguments.

“ ‘We don’t know’ may be the only honest conclusion in these uncharted economic waters,” journalist Dan Walters wrote in a recent column for The Mercury News, in which he quoted one of the studies.

Here’s what we do know: Residents of coastal California are especially vulnerable to conditions associated with climate change. Here are some:

 Periods of drought, followed by periods of severe storms;

 Reduced water availability for agriculture;

 More intense downpours, leading to crop damage and erosion;

 Increased risk of landslides;

 Increase in area burned annually by wildfires; and

 Coastal flooding and erosion due to rise in sea levels.

Given the consequences, can we really afford to wait five or 10 years for the economy to recover?

And if we allow the current economic situation to dictate our response to global warming, what’s next? Are we going to suspend environmental regulations, safety regulations, zoning laws because they are costing us jobs?

California has been a leader in the effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the right thing to do, since the state also has been one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases. To be sure, that’s not necessarily our fault — it’s largely due to the size of our population. Still, according to a 2009 NASA report, if California were a nation, it would rank among the top 20 greenhouse gas emitters in the world.

That’s not acceptable. Not for us, and certainly not for our children and grandchildren, who will pay the consequences if we fail to act.

We strongly urge a no vote on Proposition 23.