Even better news is that the report, Half the Oil: Pathways to Reduce Petroleum Use on the West Coast, shows the main measures to reduce petroleum use are the same ones we have now, but accelerated and intensified. These include better vehicle efficiency, more use of alternative fuels- especially electric vehicles- and better local transportation planning and transit options.
We don’t need a lot of fancy new technologies or breakthrough inventions to dramatically reduce our need for oil, not to mention help decarbonize our transportation sector. California has a head-start on this progress, with policies today that when fully implemented will reduce petroleum use 24%. Existing measures in Washington and Oregon already reduce petroleum use by 8% by 2030, so all three states have a strong start.
The analysis showing that we can cut petroleum reduction in half in a region of almost 50 million people puts the lie to oil industry claims that it can’t be done.
Last year when California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León introduced legislation (attempting to codify an administrative goal set by Governor Jerry Brown) that would reduce in-state petroleum consumption by half by 2030, the oil industry responded by saying, “A mandate to reduce petroleum consumption by 50 percent is an impossibly unrealistic goal.” (Western States Petroleum Association press release, February 10, 2015)
The oil industry then launched a huge campaign of misdirection, claiming that reducing oil use 50% would have to be accomplished by restricting driving, rationing gasoline, imposing penalties on vans and SUVs—anything they could think of. Given the decades of deception that UCS and others have uncovered on the part of oil companies such as ExxonMobil, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that scare tactics were used to score a win rather than facts and data.
But the data bears us out—half the oil is within our grasp. What we need now is continued strong leadership from the governors in all three states and beyond, who can seize opportunities this year and in coming years to promote, defend, and strengthen policies that help us reduce oil use. We also need not just strong and vocal public support for strong state and federal policies, but demand for very low-carbon transportation products and services- electric vehicles, very low-carbon liquid fuels, improved public transportation, and increased fuel efficiency among other things.
At a time when oil prices have collapsed worldwide, some may think it harder than ever to generate support for low-carbon transportation. But if recent history is any guide, the economic circumstances that are driving prices down will be temporary.
And it’s not just the economy that may change things—recent history also shows that we are only a single extreme weather event, geopolitical conflict, refinery explosion, or other catastrophe away from yet another spike in oil prices. And then of course there are the costs of dirty air, polluted waterways, respiratory disease and cancer, and increasingly disruptive extreme weather events spurred by global warming. The oil industry succeeded temporarily last year in pushing back California’s first attempt to codify a goal to halve our oil use. But the case for not only why we should, but how we could, achieve half the oil is getting ever stronger and more self-evident.
We have a roadmap to a better way—we should follow it.
SB 350, signed into law by Governor Brown last month, increases California’s renewable energy requirements to 50% and doubles the state’s energy efficiency. The bill passed handily, with over 60% of the vote in both houses, so it counts as a landmark win for clean energy. Unfortunately, a section that would have directed state regulators to cut petroleum use 50% by 2030 had to be stripped out to pass the bill. It was widely reported that business friendly Democrats, many of whom were beneficiaries of oil company largesse, joined with Republican members to force the oil provisions out. So it’s not surprising to see record-breaking lobbying expenditures during the last stretch of the legislative session by the Western States Petroleum Association and companies including Chevron, Valero and Exxon Mobil.
Unfortunately, money talks, and in this case it spoke very loudly.
Unless you are an oil company lobbyist, it has not been the best year to be in the oil business. Third-quarter profit statements last week showed a significant revenue drop for many oil companies due to lower oil prices. The New York Times reported that the oil sector has laid off 200,000 people, and California- based Chevron said it will lay off up to 7,000 workers, or 11% of its workforce, after announcing a 64% drop in profits for the third quarter.
Demand for oil has dropped worldwide, challenging the profitability of the boom in so-called “tight oil” from tar sands to fracking, which tends to be more energy-intensive and expensive to produce. But it’s not just slowing economies in China and the European Union that are causing the oil glut. Demand has leveled off and is declining in the U.S. even as the economy has been growing. In California we are set to reduce our petroleum use by almost 25% even without the oil-reduction target in SB 350. The combination of more efficient vehicles, alternative fuels like electricity and biofuels, and better transportation planning and transit options are having a significant impact on our oil use, and our need for petroleum fuel is decreasing even as our economy is growing. Many analysts see this as a long-term trend, though lower gas prices may increase demand over time.
It’s interesting that just as oil company profits are taking a nosedive, West Coast oil interests are seriously increasing their investment in influencing legislative votes as well as trying to sway public opinion, doubling down on the idea that people should have more and more oil, when we actually are needing it less and less. (For example, oil money is behind the establishment of a website called Powering California, which invites us to view their unintentionally hilarious notion of what “A Day Without Oil” would look like — a sort of “better living through petroleum” idea.)
Imagine if oil companies had used the combined $130 million dollars they’ve spent to influence legislators in the past 10 years on something positive? For example, instead of selling off their clean energy businesses a few years ago, what if they’d chosen to invest more in renewable energy? They might be hiring workers instead of letting them go. Or how about investing in refinery safety, using the money that investigations say was sorely needed to upgrade systems? Perhaps that would have avoided serious accidents at the Chevron plant in Richmond in 2012 and at Exxon’s Torrance refinery this year that caused injuries, pollution, and a spike in gasoline prices.
But for now, it seems that oil companies want to spend their money on politics rather than progress. And all indications are that we can look forward to more of the same on the West Coast in the coming year. The oil industry up to now has not shown that it is serious about addressing climate change, and continues to resist the policies that we need to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. It’s time for Big Oil to pay attention to scientific evidence, consumer trends and other industry leaders who say now is the time to create business models that move us beyond our damaging reliance on fossil fuels to a future of clean energy.
Featured photo by Richard Masoner.]]>
All over California, people are receiving very expensive-looking full-color, multi-page mailers and being subjected to radio spots announcing something called the California Gas Restriction Act of 2015. These turn out to be part of a massive and highly dishonest oil company campaign denouncing one of the best and most exciting bills that has been considered by the California legislature in a decade. The bill, SB 350 (De León-Leno), is actually titled the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015 and what it actually does is increase California’s share of electricity from renewable sources to 50%, increase building energy efficiency 50%, and cut California’s use of oil in half through programs that enable a combination of new technologies, vehicle efficiency, and better planning.
But you wouldn’t have any idea of this from the oil company ad campaign—one of the most extreme examples of fossil fuel-interest misinformation I’ve ever seen. State voters are being bombarded with this deceptive information through a huge, multi-million dollar PR campaign that has nothing to do with the facts and everything to do with protecting oil company revenue, as the campaign is focused entirely on the petroleum use reduction provisions of the legislation.
The ostensible source of this barrage is the “California Drivers Alliance” but the fine print reveals that the source is actually something called WSPA. For those of you who may not have heard, WSPA (pronounced “wiss-puh”) is the Western States Petroleum Association, the main oil industry lobbying arm in the western United States. The “California Driver’s Alliance” is one of their many well-documented astroturf groups that have been littering mailboxes and air waves in the western states for several years now with scare-tactics on how climate policies like cleaner fuels and vehicles are going to be the ruin of the economy.
Last year, for example, “California Drivers Alliance” had another campaign they called “Stop the Hidden Gas Tax”. Their 2014 pitch to state motorists was that on January 1st, 2015, when transportation fuels began to be subject to cap provisions of California’s climate law, gas prices would go up as much as 76 cents per gallon. They used this claim to try, unsuccessfully in the end, to persuade the Legislature to roll back implementation of the fuel carbon cap. In fact, January 1st came and went, fuels went under the cap, and gas prices actually went down, due to both too much supply and too little demand on a global level.
Well, now the oil industry’s “California Drivers Alliance” is back and on the warpath against SB 350. They have developed a new, and even more dishonest, set of claims and scare tactics to fight this legislation, claiming that the bill will give a state agency the authority to ration gas, restrict driving, impose fines on minivans, monitor driving habits, and other claims that have no basis in fact but are intended to stir up fear and paranoia. Clearly the goal is to make voters sufficiently alarmed by this hail of misleading and just plain false information to pressure lawmakers to reject SB 350’s much-needed policies to reduce carbon pollution along with our use of price-volatile oil.
To be absolutely clear, the state does not have the authority to implement any of these “big brother” policies that WSPA is claiming, and SB 350 doesn’t give the state this authority—but that hasn’t stopped WSPA from making up their own “facts”, including a new title for the bill.
The real impact of the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015 will be to strengthen and accelerate clean transportation technologies and policies we already have: electric vehicles, low-carbon fuels, vehicle efficiency, and better transportation planning. These strategies have proven very successful in reducing our demand for oil and creating a suite of cleaner, money-saving vehicle and transportation options that reduce pollution, vehicle operating costs, and consumption of fossil fuels.
This is good for both public health and people’s pocketbooks—UCS research has already shown how these policies are saving consumers money now and will save more in the future. At the same time, gasoline demand has been fairly flat over the past decade and is projected to go down over the next decade, in large part thanks to the combination of clean transportation measures we have in place that would be increased and accelerated under SB 350. Lowering demand will create more downward pressure on gasoline prices. No wonder the oil industry is resorting to a no-holds-barred strategy—these policies are costing them real money!
So, in the end, the simple truth that explains all of WSPA’s lies about SB 350 is that the legislation, while good for people, is bad for oil companies.
The WSPA campaign is very aggressive, and some lawmakers are getting nervous. We need to fight back, and hard. We need to let our lawmakers know that we are not fooled by WSPA’s lies, and that we want them to support the public’s interest, not oil company interests. Make your voice heard. If you are a California voter, please look up your state Assembly member’s phone number at this website, and then call their offices to say that you support SB 350 and SB 32 because it will be a critical law to reduce carbon pollution dramatically over the next decades. Let them know that you want them to support what’s good for the people of California, and reject WSPA lies.]]>
ALEC might promote limited government, but it is certainly not a proponent of open government. The group has a long history of blocking press access to its functions. In a widely shared video, an Atlanta television reporter was denied access in May to an ALEC conference between state legislators and corporate lobbyists. The reporter, however, learned from two legislators that ALEC gives state lawmakers free resort stays paid for by lobbyists while providing them with industry-friendly “model” legislation written by lobbyists. One state senator interviewed called ALEC “a corporate bill mill.”
Despite its tax status as a non-profit charitable organization prevented from spending any substantial time wielding influence over legislation, ALEC provides corporate lobbyists venues to influence policymakers behind closed doors.
A new report, “The Climate Deception Dossiers” by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), details how ALEC and some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies it counts among its members have actively misled the public and policymakers about the climate risks of fuel extraction despite repeated scientific warnings. UCS researchers chronicled the decades of deceit by reviewing internal documents related to ALEC and companies including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Shell that came to light through leaks, lawsuits, and Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents show that the corporate leaders long knew the realities of climate science—that their fossil fuel products were harmful to people and the planet—but still supported disinformation campaigns that actively denied or obfuscated the facts.
One of ALEC’s major priorities has been to attack climate science and dismantle state policies to reduce carbon pollution and accelerate the transition to clean energy, including the very policies that make California a climate leader. ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force convenes frequent backroom meetings in which state legislators are briefed with climate disinformation and lobbied by utility and fossil fuel interests, according to the UCS report.
These sort of deceptive tactics have led to public pressure on some major California tech companies to leave ALEC, which Google, Facebook, and Yahoo have done over the past year. As Google Chairman Eric Schmidt told NPR last September, “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people…they’re just literally lying.”
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the top lobbyist for the oil industry in the western United States, follows a similar playbook as ALEC and shares some of the same members. In an attempt to weaken, delay, and defeat climate-related policies on the West Coast, WSPA funds so-called “astroturf” organizations that purport to advocate on behalf of drivers and taxpayers rather than oil companies. These front groups, with grassroots-sounding names such as the California Drivers Alliance, create an illusion of consumer backlash to the state’s climate and energy policies, but undermine true public discourse.
Recently, WSPA came out swinging against proposed legislation in California to reduce petroleum use. Under the guise of one if its front groups, it issued false threats on social media claiming that consumers would be faced with gas rationing and government limits on the miles they can drive if the legislation passes. Surely WSPA knows that the California Air Resources Board has no such authority and no proposed bills would give it to them.
Between January 2009 and September 2014, oil companies spent more than $26.9 million through WSPA directly lobbying in Sacramento to defeat the state’s groundbreaking climate policies aimed at achieving a sharp reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. Chevron alone reported spending nearly $14 million.
None of this bodes well for democracy. ALEC calls itself “America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state lawmakers,” yet the top three speakers at this year’s meeting in San Diego are Republican presidential candidates with no Democrat in sight.
ALEC claims to stand for free-market principles, but nothing about it is free or principled when it enables corporations to dictate public policy.
First, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order that requires the state to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, a move that fulfills a request made in a UCS-coordinated letter signed by 164 state scientists last year. Second, the State Senate moved two landmark bills forward that together would dramatically decarbonize the economy over the next 15-30 years. And the California grid operator tweeted that at 1:30 PM the state hit a new solar peak – 6,038 MW. As our colleague Adam Browning of Vote Solar remarked, “That’s the world’s 7th largest economy running along just fine on what used to be considered a hippie pipe dream.”
Many have asked me why California keeps driving forward on climate action at a time when any comprehensive movement at the federal level seems stalled (notwithstanding EPA’s Clean Power Plan and some great work on transportation emissions.) There are a lot of very un-scientific ideas out there about why California is “so different”, but the truth is pretty prosaic- it’s because of experience. California went down the low-carbon road in the first place in large part because folks like the policies that also happen to lower greenhouse gas emissions: reducing pollutants from vehicle tailpipes and smokestacks, energy efficiency measures that save people money, and increased energy independence from clean, renewable electricity sources. So starting with a pioneering measure to reduce car tailpipe ghgs in 2002 and hitting stride with an economy wide cap to lower emissions in 2006 (known as AB 32) California has steadily accelerated investment in these and other technologies, practices, and policies that reduce emissions, and instituted a carbon pricing mechanism to further incentivize innovation and investment. Along the way we’ve found that this all not only helps with public health and the environment, it’s also a job-creator and investment magnet.
In short, the reason California keeps cruising along to a low-carbon future is simple- this stuff works great!
UC Berkeley energy professor Dan Kammen and others have argued persuasively that California has profited by being a climate leader, attracting 40 percent of clean tech private investment. An estimated $27 billion of venture capital and other financing has flowed into California clean technology companies since 2006 – in part because policies like AB 32 are driving demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency- and California now has the largest advanced energy industry in the United States, with 500,000 workers across 40,000 companies in 2015. And the state is working on new ways to expand the benefits of these actions. One of the key state laws that was developed in the wake of AB 32 requires that at least a quarter of the money raised through the law’s carbon pricing system be invested in low-income communities that suffer heavy pollution burdens, thus providing crucial health and community investment co-benefits.
In addition to the Governor’s target announced today (which becomes state policy but does not have the force of law) two bills were voted out of a key policy committee in the State Senate that would do even more. SB 32 (Pavley) would create a comprehensive statutory target of 80 percent reductions by 2050, and SB 350 (De León/Leno) would increase renewable energy use to 50 percent, reduce oil consumption by half – virtually the state-level codification of UCS’s Half the Oil plan- and increase energy efficiency by 50 percent by 2030. These are all very ambitious- some might say aggressive- targets and not all questions have been answered about how we can get there and at what cost. However, several studies have investigated possible pathways to get to these targets, and most have concluded we can succeed wholly or substantially with technologies and policies we are already deploying. In fact, Kammen noted in written testimony on SB 32 that “a number of the low-carbon 2050 pathways are less costly than what electricity is forecast to cost without a climate target.”
Of course, there are reasons we should proceed with caution- no worthwhile journey is without a few bumps and maybe a detour or two. But any setbacks the state may have are lessons that need to be learned and can benefit the nation and the world as the journey to a low-carbon future picks up momentum. The compelling science that put us on this road is clearer than ever. California is picking up speed, and so far we are having a great ride. As science is showing more conclusively all the time, the alternative road is pretty frightening. With California showing how good the journey can be, it seems foolish not to follow.]]>
But as UCS President Ken Kimmell has pointed out in a post-election blog post, the results do not mean we should be discouraged or stop trying to make progress—we just need to focus our efforts where they are most likely to make progress.
Despite the likelihood of continued, chronic Beltway dysfunction, election news from the West Coast states of California and Oregon is very encouraging. Governors Brown and Kitzhaber, both of whom have made climate action cornerstones of their administrations, coasted to easy re-election. California’s climate–friendly legislature appears to be holding on, and Oregon elected some pro-conservation legislators who may help make climate and clean energy gains in that state a real possibility.
In Washington, a couple of state Senate candidates favored by conservationists lost their races to incumbents more resistant to advancing climate policies. That means Governor Inslee may face some challenges in getting his ambitious climate program approved. On the positive side, activists, businesses, and community groups are gearing up and ready to work on lowering emissions from vehicles as well as more comprehensive carbon policies.
All three of these states, which have a combined population of 53 million people and collectively represent the world’s fifth largest economy, are already collaborating on a climate action plan signed by all three governors and the premier of British Columbia. They pledged to work together on aggressive climate action regionally — by harmonizing greenhouse gas reduction policies and investing in low-carbon fuels, energy, and infrastructure — and globally.
All three Western governors have said they will champion new laws and regulations over the next two years to lower carbon emissions. If successful, these efforts will make the West Coast a worldwide leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ramping up the use of clean energy and fuels, while also building their economies.
UCS is working closely with scientists and NGOs in all three states to help with the following initiatives:
Progress is not a foregone conclusion, however, and advances in all three states are under attack by a very expensive oil company campaign designed to keep us tied to the fossil fuel monopoly. UCS and our allies will be working very hard to achieve clean energy and climate progress over the next two years, and we will need your help, your support, your letters, your voices, and your votes.
We stand a good chance of winning in all three states, creating a huge block of economic and people power that can help demonstrate how climate action is not only feasible, but can help build new industries and a stronger and more resilient economy while also cleaning the environment, making people’s communities healthier, and reducing our reliance on imported energy.
The most successful low-carbon policy we’ve had in this country, our fuel efficiency standards, started as a California policy that expanded to 16 states before being adopted by the federal government. States are frequently the proving ground for federal policies. The West Coast is poised to do it again, but we will need your help.
Stay tuned! And don’t despair—join the fight.]]>
UCS climate scientist Juliet Christian-Smith is the lead author of a new article in Sustainability Science (subscription only) describing how the actions that have made California relatively resilient to short-term drought are setting us up for trouble in the long run and can be considered “maladaptation.” The article finds that California’s current strategies for dealing with drought are less successful than previously thought when short- and long-term impacts are evaluated together. This finding is particularly relevant given projections of more frequent and severe water shortages in the future due to climate change.
The analysis reveals that while California’s agricultural and energy sectors displayed remarkable resiliency to the 2007-2009 drought, sustaining high production levels, they did so by relying on a series of coping strategies that increased vulnerability to longer or more severe droughts.
For example, California is currently living off credit by overpumping groundwater from its aquifers. Groundwater is one of the primary ways that the agricultural sector insulates itself from drought impacts, yet as groundwater levels continue to drop, groundwater pumping is becoming less economical (more expensive to pump water up from deeper depths or to drill deeper wells) and ultimately unsustainable as we are pumping out more water than is available to refill those aquifers in many locations.
In addition, California’s hydropower was roughly halved during the 2007-2009 drought. This lost hydropower was largely replaced with the purchase and combustion of additional natural gas. Ratepayers spent $1.7 billion extra to purchase natural gas over the three-year drought period; the combustion of this extra natural gas led to emissions of an additional 13 million tons of carbon dioxide (about a 10 percent increase in emissions from California power plants).
Overall, California continues to respond to drought through a series of shortsighted, crisis-driven responses, rather than pursuing more robust mitigation measures (see the following Table, reprinted from the article). The article provides a series of recommendations for the development and enactment of long-term mitigation measures that are anticipatory and focus on comprehensive risk reduction. It is past time to learn how to live with the inevitable: death, taxes and, for Californians, drought.]]>
You may already know that AB32 is the historic state climate law passed in 2006 that is reducing pollution, saving Californians money, and improving public health—especially in communities that are most affected by air pollution. AB32 currently works to reduce emissions from a variety of sectors, including electricity generation.
Starting on January 1st 2015, the AB32 cap on emissions is scheduled to cover transportation fuels—the largest single source of emissions in California, accounting for nearly 40 percent of California’s total global warming emissions.
Reducing emissions from transportation is a critical step for California to meet its climate goals and help mitigate the costly impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, the oil industry is orchestrating a campaign to convince the public and California’s elected leaders to exempt transportation fuels from the AB32 program.
Hiding behind “Astroturf” front groups with names like “Fed Up at the Pump”, arranging a barrage of paid advertisements and op-eds in local papers by their allies, and increasing campaign contributions to state legislators, oil interests hope to turn back the clock and get transportation fuels out from under requirements to reduce their emissions as now required by law. They are using scare tactics of skyrocketing gas prices to avoid accountability for their carbon emissions and delay the transition to cleaner fuels. They are also using similar tactics in Oregon and Washington to try to prevent the establishment and/or extension of clean fuels policies in those states.
We shouldn’t be fooled by the oil industry’s misleading rhetoric: California’s climate policies are working. That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists just released new analysis on AB32 that examines how California’s suite of climate and transportation policies are not just investing in communities and reducing the costly impacts of climate change, but are also saving drivers money.
UCS’s transportation experts crunched the numbers and found that the suite of clean transportation policies under AB32 are actually saving consumers money. A California driver who purchases an average new model year 2015 car can expect to save $3.90 each week over the life of the vehicle compared with a driver who purchased a new vehicle in 2008. The comparative savings grow to $5.20 per week for the owner of a new vehicle in 2020 and $9.00 per week for someone buying a new vehicle in 2025.
California’s low-carbon transportation policies will also help those looking to purchase a used vehicle; a 10-year-old used car in 2025, for example, will save its driver $7.50 a week, or nearly $400 a year, over the remaining lifetime of the vehicle compared with a 10-year-old used car purchased in 2015.
These important policies are also reducing harmful pollution and helping improve public health in disadvantaged communities across the state.
A recent study found that California’s low carbon fuel standard and cap-and-trade programs will save $8.3 billion in health costs between now and 2025 by reducing asthma attacks, hospitalizations, and other health impacts associated with poor air quality.
And, in California’s 2014–2015 fiscal year, more than $200 million in revenues from the state’s cap-and-trade auction will be spent to benefit disadvantaged communities, including investments in public transit and advanced freight technologies such as electric trucks and buses.
California’s climate policies are reducing carbon emissions, saving consumers at the pump, cutting oil use, and cleaning our air. It’s a clean transportation future that works for all Californians, and sets a leading example for other states—and our federal government—to follow.
It’s critical that the state keep moving forward toward this goal. Let’s not allow the oil industry to stall California’s plan to reduce emissions from transportation fuels.
Contact your state representatives today and let them know that you support California’s climate policies.]]>
Although California is known as a leader when it comes to climate change, its approach to groundwater has been more reminiscent of the Wild West. Groundwater provides around 60 percent of the state’s water supply in dry years, but it has remained largely unregulated since the Gold Rush era. Today, California took a major leap forward into the 21st century as Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills into law aimed at protecting groundwater for current and future generations.
This year’s record-breaking dry conditions shined a spotlight on the state’s out-dated approach to groundwater. Numerous articles documented a well-drilling spree, as rivers and canals dried up and as declining groundwater tables led many to sink ever-deeper wells. In parts of the Central Valley, the loss of groundwater is so great that it has altered the gravitational pull of the earth, as measured by satellites circling the globe. And as droughts are expected to become more frequent in a warming world, sustainable groundwater management is increasingly important.
Until now, California was the only state in the Western U.S. that did not comprehensively monitor or regulate groundwater. Today, the Governor signed Senate Bill 1168 (Pavley) and Assembly Bill 1739 (Dickinson), which start the process of creating a statewide system to manage groundwater. These policies require local groundwater management entities to be formed by 2017 and to adopt groundwater sustainability plans by 2020. Importantly, groundwater management entities must also measure groundwater use and report groundwater levels to the state. If a groundwater sustainability plan is not adequate or does not address long-term groundwater declines, the State Water Board can step in to ensure sustainable groundwater management.
While many will see these as common-sense measures, the opposition against these bills was fierce. Simply put, sustainable groundwater management threatens those who are benefiting from the current free-for-all. Until very recently, any mention of comprehensive groundwater monitoring or measurement in California was met with cynical sneers. Indeed, there have been numerous attempts to modernize California’s approach to groundwater over the decades, starting with the Governor’s Commission to Review Water Rights Law in 1978, which recommended a more comprehensive approach to groundwater management.
A generation later, the groundwater crisis has reached epic proportions and the state is finally stepping up to the plate, thanks in no small part to Senator Pavley, Assemblymember Dickinson, and the valiant efforts of many farmers, water agencies, academics and experts, foundations, community-based organizations, and environmental organizations who worked together to turn the tides.
While there is much to celebrate, there is also much more work to be done. In the coming years, local groundwater management entities will need to determine how to reach a sustainable water yield by 2040. Scientists, community members, and other stakeholders will need to work together to make sure that local groundwater sustainability plans are science-based, address climate change, and protect our water resources for the future. Let’s get to work!
To a small child growing up in the excitement of California in the late 1960s, Sacramento was a boring, embarrassing place to be from; a hot, flat hick town (“Sackatomato” thanks to the signature crop). Even being a state capital didn’t help, as stodgy politicians did not compare to the new, cool, hip California of the Sunset Strip, Haight-Ashbury, Malibu surfers, Monterey Pop, and scary but intriguing Berkeley radicals. Even our first movie star Governor didn’t help as he clearly belonged to a different world than ours (and to a kid he was really just another stodgy old guy.)
One morning as my dad drove us into the downtown area from our home in the suburbs I saw a large group out the car window, more than I could count, spread out for blocks and blocks. Many were holding signs with words and symbols in red and black and some sort of big bird. Some were walking quietly together with their placards, but many were lining the streets holding up their signs and happily pumping them at passing cars like ours — and they had such smiles. Decades later I have a strong imprint of those big, joyful smiles, shouting slogans I couldn’t understand.
As a current-events geek even then I knew this must be some kind of demonstration or peace march like on the news, which was quite exciting, as news happened other places, never in my town. TV demonstrators usually looked terribly serious and sometimes they looked angry. But the people I saw on the street in Sacramento on that day didn’t look angry- far from it. Some were jubilant. I asked my father who they were and he told me they were the workers who picked the crops in the fields that became the food on our table. He said they were on a strike —refusing to work — because of someone called Cesar Chavez.
We honor Cesar Chavez as a civil rights and labor leader because he led a movement that organized some of the poorest, most powerless workers in America, mostly Mexican and Filipino migrant workers. The strikes he led and the marches and fasts he undertook (along with savvy political maneuvering) eventually brought collective bargaining power, though fitfully and incompletely, to agricultural laborers. The long walk, or “perigrinación” (pilgrimage) he led in 1966 in support of striking grape workers over a 300-mile stretch of Highway 99 from Delano to Sacramento, with a banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe leading the marchers, was brilliant political theater, but it also had real power. Even a child could feel it.
It’s fascinating history but, alas, complicated. Chavez’s life and the history of the UFW is not a fairy tale. Inter-union conflicts and industry resistance took a big toll on early union gains. Some farmers felt they were unfairly treated and portrayed by the union. Chavez died too young, worn down by the struggle. Still today farmworkers along with many others suffer a big deficit in the odds when it comes to winning better wages and better working conditions.
But whatever Chavez’ ultimate political legacy, what I think we remember is that there was a long moment when some of the poorest and most powerless people in America succeeded in taking some control over the quality of their jobs, their fair compensation, and their lives, because the moral weight of their cause and their steadfastness together outweighed the wealth and influence of one of the most powerful industries in the nation. I wonder if we can learn something from that.
Increasingly polls confirm that people are really concerned about climate change, but confused or apathetic about what can be done about it in the face of fossil-fuel industry money and influence in government and their own perceived dependence on fossil energy. People feel powerless.
This is sad, because there are real solutions — now, today. Some are technological — cleaner energy and vehicles, mostly — that have a promising though still fragile foothold in our energy portfolio. State policies, notably California’s AB 32 are making a difference, and President Obama’s EPA utility performance rule is a great start on reducing power sector emissions, while his proposed Climate Resilience Fund in the federal budget can help protect us from impacts. Personal behavior can also help lower our emissions. UCS has recommended ways that Americans can cut their household emissions by at least 20% if they make adjustments to their behavior and consumption. And if we create the right conditions and are lucky we may find a great new energy technology or some geo-engineering miracle.
But is this enough? We need to move very quickly and make very big changes very soon if we are to avert some of the worst consequences of climate change. The task is enormous.
For those of us who share the conviction that decisive near-term action is necessary to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, have we done enough to demonstrate the steadfast courage it takes uphold our conviction? Outside of a relatively small number of activists, are we too comfortable to do what it really takes to demand a different way that is better for ourselves and our children? And if we don’t want to be “activists” in the traditional sense, do we really lack the creativity to figure out other, powerful ways to bring about change? If some of the most disenfranchised people in America could do it, why can’t we? (And you know, they walked.)
So I want to step away for a moment from our usual preoccupations to contemplate the example set by this man and his movement. And I want to remember what caught my childhood imagination in Sacramento all those years ago. It was not labor policy, or social justice, or the price of tomatoes. It was the sheer joy and dignity that comes from standing up, standing firm, and standing together for what you know is right.
Happy Birthday, Cesar Chavez.]]>