When there’s a crisis in the public schools, many Californians are unaffected because they send their kids to private or parochial schools. When there’s an oil crunch and gasoline prices rise, the poor are once again affected disproportionately.
But money can’t buy anyone’s way out of the greenhouse gas crisis that the great bulk of responsible scientists say is on the way. In fact, if Greenland’s ice cap slid away and ocean water levels rose 20-odd feet, as many say would happen, the rich would be disproportionately affected because they own thousands of coastal properties.
Meanwhile, inland residents would also be severely affected by the climate change bound to accompany any such events.
Yet, conservative politicians and business interests in this state still do not take the greenhouse problem seriously. Maybe that’s because the very presence of former Vice President Al Gore in his widely-screened documentary An Inconvenient Truth has tended to make this problem a political issue for some, rather than one of simple survival for the human race.
But it really just might be about survival, and if it is, what California does to alleviate or prevent a crisis could be crucical. For it is hugely-increased production of carbon dioxide (CO2), emitted by cars and industry and people themselves, that has caused global temperatures to rise far beyond anything seen in the earth’s history of normal weather cycles. The higher temperatures are behind the suddenly speedy disappearance of glaciers around the world, from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya to the Angel Glacier in Canada’s Jasper National Park to the snowfields atop many mountains in the American West.
The inaction of the federal government in the face of all this lends importance to what California does. For even under a federal administration known to suppress or alter scientific reports its financial backers don’t like and known to order silence from dissenting government scientists, the National Science Foundation this summer reports that America – with only five percent of the world’s population – produces 45 percent of the world’s CO2. Since California has more than 12 percent of the nation’s population, it’s a safe bet this state produces at least five percent of the world’s CO2. That’s one out of every 20 such molecules worldwide.
No one knows the precise global temperature rise that could cause Greenland’s ice to slip-slide away and melt into the oceans. So whatever California does to cut its contribution to the greenhouse effect just might be the edge needed to preserve climatic stability worldwide. Especially since many other states follow California’s lead on air pollution policy.
The state has acted to require great reductions in greenhouse gas produced by cars and trucks, a law that is still being fought in the courts by carmakers.
Other measures are on the drawing board. Voters will get a chance for significant action when they consider this fall’s Proposition 87, which aims to tax oil produced in the state about $200 million per year and use the money for an alternative energy program providing incentives for using alternative energy vehicles and fuels producing less CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The tax could not be passed through to gasoline customers.
At the same time, legislators are at work on 30 measures aimed at reducing the greenhouse effect. Most important of these is one that would force all industries to report how much greenhouse gas they produce, also placing caps on emissions starting in 2012.
“The world is watching today what we do in California,” intones Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, vowing to fight efforts by business groups to defeat the measure by labeling it a “job killer.”
Just becoming clear is the stance of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who strongly opposes Proposition 87. His financial support comes principally from companies that poo-poo global warming while they contribute to it. Yes, he signed off on the automotive emission law as part of a claim to be the “environmental governor.”
But in late July he began moving to soften what Nunez and other legislators want to accomplish. He has circulated a proposal to add in a board composed solely of gubernatorial appointees which could delay emission caps and another to create a market-based system for emission trading.
His reelection rival, Democrat Phil Angelides, maintains these changes would essentially gut the bill. And the Sierra Club last month called Schwarzenegger “an executive who tries to please his big-business supporters with one hand while making environmental promises with the other.”
Reality, as always, will lie in what the governor does and not what he or anyone else may say. Whether he turns about and endorses Proposition 87, stops trying to soften the greenhouse gas-control bills and then signs them when they emerge from the Legislature all will determine whether he’s entitled to the “environmentalist” label he claims. And maybe whether California will contribute to preservation of life on earth as we know it.