Gov. Brown’s 2015 GHG Reduction Executive Order Sets a Stretch Goal for California

Issue: 
Jerry Brown

The genius of so many people has produced a state that is now the seventh-largest economic entity in the world. Our growth in economic terms—in production of jobs—is significantly faster than that of the nation as a whole over the last four or five years.

But despite our economic strength and environmental successes, relative to the rest of the country, California’s taking the most aggressive steps to deal with pollution and the threat of climate change.

Dealing with the environment is totally consistent with a sound economy. In fact, the characteristic of the free market is that it responds to challenges in so many millions of decentralized ways. It is not a rigid system. When the state sets a low-carbon fuel standard, people respond. When the state sets a standard for the vehicle tailpipe emissions or for sulfur or oxides, nitrogen, carbon monoxide—it responds. Business responds. The car companies respond.

I remember, because I was also governor 40 years ago, that the car companies said they couldn’t meet newly adopted pollution standards: “It’s impossible.” Well, we’re way beyond the tailpipe emissions standards that I was proposing and implementing 35 years ago.

The same is true of the utilities. In fact, the utilities that are sponsors of this event said, not many years ago, that they couldn’t meet the standard of 20 percent renewable energy. Now they’ve exceeded it, and they will continue to exceed it.

My message is: Yes, we have big challenges. Yes, wide swaths of the world and the economy are not doing what they need to do. But we’re demonstrating in California that we can take the steps to reduce carbon emissions while advancing our economy at the same time.

That’s why this morning I signed an executive order to set a target over the next 15 years of reducing greenhouse gases to what they were in 1990, when California had far fewer people and far fewer cars. This is going to require a significant reduction in carbon emissions. It’s going to require creative responses on the part of industry, agriculture, energy, local and state government—all of that.

I’ve set a very high bar, but it’s a bar we must meet. It’s a bar not only for California, but also for other states, for the United States as a whole, and for nations around the world. Other countries have set such a goal—including the European Union. But in North America, California is now setting the pace. We’re very serious about it. We’re going to take whatever steps are needed to get the job done, because our future depends on it.

We know we’re in the warmest year, and the warmest quarter of this year, that we’ve ever seen in recorded history. We see that when we dump billions of tons of greenhouse gases, the climate is affected. You can’t have seven billion people on the planet, with one billion cars and all the other technological impacts, and not see a change in the climate. So we have to adapt. We have to change, and we have to prevent what the result will be if it’s business as usual.

We have a lot of opposition. The leadership in the United States Senate and House, takes climate change very lightly. They poo-poo it: “There’s no problem.” In fact, one of the senators from Oklahoma had a little snowball in his hand and said that it proved there’s no such thing as global warming. That kind of magical thinking leads to disaster.

If the federal government and the legislative branch can’t get it right, then we in California are going to do our part to take care of business here, and to stimulate some intelligent response over there on the other side of the country.

We have to carry out what we’re doing here. We’ve got a carbon price here. Cap and trade is working and we can continue to expand it. It’s financing a lot of very important programs. But most importantly, we’re sending the signals to the private economy to create, to innovate, and to make the kind of response that will enable Californians to live in compatibility with the environment instead of totally restructuring the environmental chemistry on which we all depend.

We can do it. It’s going to be difficult. We’re going to go about this carefully. This executive order is not just a political statement. This is an operative set of instructions that will be spearheaded by the Air Resources Board and other agencies. We’ll do everything we can to get it done in a practical, economic way.

Unfortunately, with all the crises in the world—from the Ukraine, to Russia, to the Far East, and to the awful conflicts in the Asian countries and in the Middle East—climate change seems a bit remote and abstract compared to all that warfare, hatred, and killing.

President Obama talked about a slow, rolling crisis in race relations. We’ve got a slow, rolling crisis in climate change. It’s not something that makes for news. It’s not an impact in one minute or one day. In that sense, it’s not an event. It’s a condition—a condition that is changing the fundamental conditions of human existence. We have to have enough foresight that we can act in enough time to prevent irreversible catastrophic impacts.

Whether the catastrophic impacts will happen in a decade or in three, four, or six decades, we’re setting in motion the emission of billions of tons of chemicals and gases that will affect the climate. We now know that the ice in Greenland is melting much faster than we ever thought just a few years ago. Some people say we’ve passed a tipping point, and that sea level is going to rise 12 feet.

This is really serious stuff. The trouble is that the danger is far enough away that the hard work of changing behavior now becomes difficult. It requires imagination.

It’s a real test—not just for California, and not just for America, but for the world. Can we rise above the little parochialisms, the ethnocentric perspectives and the immediacy of “I want” and “I need,” to envision a way of life that is sustainable, that is long-term, and that is inclusive?

That’s why dealing with climate change, as this executive order does, is fundamental, is paramount, and transcends far more than the day-to-day of political issues and problems. However serious other crises are, there’s nothing as serious as the possibility of fundamentally and radically altering the conditions of human existence in a profoundly detrimental way.

Those are the stakes. They couldn’t be bigger.

The State of California is a big state with lots of imagination. With this executive order, we will reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases to what they were in 1990. We’re going to do it in a very quantitative way. We know this means 260 million tons per year of greenhouse gases. Today we’re at around 450. We know where we have to go, and we look to you to help us get there.

But nothing will stop us, because sooner or later, whether they’re in Congress, in an oil company, or just in an ordinary classroom, people will get the truth. The truth will make us free, will win out, and will save our planet. We know we have to, and we know we can, because we have the tools to do so.

Thank you very much and good luck in your proceedings.

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