Recent evidence reveals that California has surrendered to the climate crisis, so prospects for our grandchildren's future look grim. For example, this year the Assembly and state Senate passed no effective climate legislation.
Lawmakers ignored climate's effect on wildfires, floods, drought and soaring temperatures. Worldwide temperatures are now 1.2 degrees Celsius above historic levels, headed for 3.6 degrees by 2100. Given damage already apparent, imagine year 2100 at 3.6 degrees.
It's not that lawmakers don't know. Sen. Mike McGuire's Senate Concurrent Resolution 53 declares, "The climate emergency threatens the state, the nation, the planet, the natural world, and all of humanity." Fifteen cosponsors — unfortunately only 15 — have joined this declaration, but its mere words don't do anything to arrest the emergency.
There have been fires here long before it was California, but it's only with the climate crisis they've grown to be such conflagrations.
Another ineffective bill, Senate Bill 884, supports PG&E to underground its distribution lines, but does nothing to slow conflagrations. PG&E's plan also ignores how other utilities have insulated overhead lines cheaper and faster. So this bill may reduce fires that PG&E starts, but it won't do anything to help conflagrations.
At the heart of the climate crisis are carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels like gasoline and natural gas.
Climate solutions are multifaceted. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that to keep temperatures below disastrous levels, we need to take all possible actions. Which actions? IPCC results are complex, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a more accessible, online model called En-ROADS (www.en-roads.climateinteractive.org/scenario.html?v=22.5.1). Anyone can test solutions and users find that one indispensable component of success is a high price on carbon dioxide pollution.
Wind and solar are already cheaper than fossil-powered electricity. So why isn't California using more? Partly, it's because NIMBYs oppose solar and wind power, and partly it's because utilities don't make enough money on solar and wind.
Sadly, government also colludes with corporations and crisis supporters. Rooftop solar has arguably been America's most successful program, but the Public Utilities Commission's plan to block it assures California can't meet its climate goals. Claiming falsely that poor people subsidize rich owners of solar roofs, PG&E seeks rules that make rooftop solar uneconomic.
Over a decade ago, the California Air Resources Board initiated its cap and trade program. The theory was that bidding for limited rights to pollute — under a cap that turned out too high — would encourage firms to emit less carbon dioxide. But because too many pollution rights were granted, the price is too low and carbon dioxide emissions aren't declining fast enough. CARB's governing board and the agency itself have ignored outside expert advice to improve cap and trade.
California's largest source of carbon dioxide pollution is transportation, but CARB has even questioned the governor's electric vehicle proposal.
Lawmakers and California agencies aren't alone in their inaction. Most citizens haven't taken meaningful steps, either because incentives don't encourage them to do so or maybe because they don't care. Anyway, by now individual action isn't enough. At this late stage, only enlightened government policy will convince us to forgo fossil fuels.
Humboldt County mirrors California's broader challenge. Even our more thoughtful county supervisors oppose steps to arrest the climate crisis. Their most egregious vote several years ago rejected Terra-Gen's wind project, located at the county's best wind site and right-sized for Humboldt County.
Terra-Gen alone wouldn't have solved the world's climate problem but it would have helped keep our lights on. Supervisors agreed with Terra-Gen opponents that it was unattractive, on sacred ground and financed by greedy capitalists.
Environmentalist Tim McKay would be appalled if he were alive today. More recently, supervisors rejected expert testimony to make the McKay Ranch housing development all electric and, instead, chose to tie it to polluting natural gas. Curiously, builders' costs would have been lower to install electric appliances rather than gas.
A bright spot is Rep. Jared Huffman's strong stand on climate at the federal level. Unfortunately, he doesn't get enough support in Washington, D.C.
Why do lawmakers ignore climate science and economics, and fail to legislate? I conclude they happily accept fossil lobbyists' contributions and their self-serving claims. Hopefully, it's not too late for us to speak louder than lobbyists do, and redeem our grandchildren's future.
John Schaefer is an engineer with four decades of energy experience. He lives in Arcata.