Tom Fulks

The Green New Deal is ‘weak tea’ in progressive California

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See how California's top-selling vehicles stack up when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. The state's car culture is undermining its effort to fight climate change.
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See how California's top-selling vehicles stack up when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. The state's car culture is undermining its effort to fight climate change.

Like moths to a flame, the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee recently adopted a resolution supporting the Green New Deal.

Just about every elected and office-seeking Democrat in the nation is being asked to do the same. Even though the Green New Deal (GND) offers aspirational ideas that make better sound bites than effective public policy, it’s a litmus test of commitment to the party’s core environmental principles.

According to the local resolution, candidates seeking office in 2020 will be required to support the GND if they expect the SLODCC’s endorsement — whether or not they can do anything about climate change from the office they seek or already hold.

As I pointed out to the SLODCC, the GND is pretty weak tea compared to what we drink around here. It’s effectively meaningless in California — the world’s fifth largest economy — because our climate change policies already go far beyond nearly every measure it imagines, including creating real jobs as opposed to paper jobs.

In fact, our state has done more to mitigate the effects of climate change than any other government on earth. For example, California has:

  • Adopted a conservative carbon cap-and-trade program (in lieu of a carbon tax opposed by many), requiring polluters to either reduce their carbon output or buy allowances from industries that produce carbon emissions below permitted levels. Of the $3.4 billion California took in from carbon cap-and-trade auctions since 2012, when the program began, some $2.7 billion has been spent on programs and projects aimed at reducing the state’s atmospheric carbon inventory;
  • Imposed a low-carbon fuel standard on petroleum refiners requiring a 20 percent reduction in the carbon content of transportation fossil fuels by 2030, spawning a low-carbon fuel technology jobs boom. The LCFS is largely credited as the main reason behind California meeting its 2020 carbon reduction goals in 2018;
  • Passed a law requiring 100 percent renewable power generation by 2045, triggering a hiring boom;
  • Adopted a zero-emission vehicle mandate for passenger vehicles (similar measures are under development for commercial vehicles); and
  • Spearheaded the creation of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, combining the climate change-fighting efforts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, and the cities of Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. The effort is seen as an economic stimulus package that promises to dramatically cut carbon emissions through government spending on clean energy jobs, technologies and infrastructure.

Weak tea or not, one thing is certain: The Green New Deal is essential to forcing the issue nationally — hopefully emulating West Coast initiatives. Without it, the federal government will never adopt meaningful climate change measures in the current political climate.

The main selling point of the GND is its politics, a rallying point around which to build a winning political coalition by reframing climate policy as a critical story of economic growth and opportunity.

Critics will undoubtedly argue that we can’t afford the GND, that it’s a radical political ploy by leftists. This argument ignores the costs of inaction. The price of the GND is cheap compared to the damage unchecked climate change will inflict upon the economy, so the argument goes.

On a planet facing the existential threat of drastic sea level rise, the economics of the GND are solid. Society can – and must – combat climate change by using existing clean technologies to cut emissions today or by innovating new clean technologies to cut future emissions.

Recognizing our state’s global leadership on climate policy, the SLODCC adopted the GND resolution as an “aspirational resolution and blueprint for addressing global climate change” and creating jobs, adding a line that the GND should model national carbon policies on the California experience:

“Whereas the 2020 election will be the most significant environmental referendum in the history of our species; and

“Whereas the SLODCC wants to be a leader in the fight against global climate change and for renewable energy and a carbon free economy, which will create millions of new jobs;

“Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the SLODCC

  1. Endorses the Green New Deal as an aspirational resolution and blueprint for addressing global climate change, the transformation to a vibrant, clean energy economy, and environmental justice for all persons;
  2. Supports a moratorium on the permitting of any new fossil fuel production or infrastructure on all federal lands within the United States; and
  3. Will seriously consider these factors in decisions to endorse candidates for local, state and national office.”

Climate change is real. California leads the fight. The Green New Deal is a Great Big Deal.

Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. He writes an occasional opinion column for The Tribune.

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