Once Again it Starts in California
In the last half of the twentieth century many of the major social, political and cultural trends in the United States started in California. The worship of the car and the surrounding car culture, the glorification of suburbia via sitcoms, surfing, music, the drug and counter-culture, free speech and student protest, progressive public higher education, the Silicon Valley explosion of technological innovation, and of course, right turn on red. Later the negative issues of traffic gridlock, illegal immigration, brown outs and state budget deficits started first in California. Now, on one of the most fundamentally important issues of the day the state has once again asserted its leadership position.
A couple of weeks ago the state legislators passed one of the most important pieces of legislation in recent memory: the California Global Warming Solutions Act. This is the first time that any state has approved legislation that caps emissions for all the economic sectors of the state. This legislation mandates that major industrial producers must reduce admissions by 25% by 2020. That means a reduction in annual carbon dioxide emissions by some 175 million tons. The inverse math is staggering: 700 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year in the state of California alone!
In a country where the Federal (lack of )leadership is not only asleep at the wheel but has its foot on the gas pedal, it is wonderful to see a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature come together to start the absolutely essential process of changing our relationship to the planet. Simple, gas drunk politicians have for too long equated pollution as a part of â€˜economic growth, jobs and an increasing tax baseâ€™. It was determined in the preparation of this legislation that the global warming reduction effort would increase income by billions and would create tens of thousands of jobs. Developing green technologies, using innovation to lessen reliance on fossil fuels, and finding new ways of production will all lead to economic growth. One great aspect of this legislation is that any company that is a supplier to the State of California, whether they are in the state or not must abide by these new regulations. That means that this will have ramifications beyond the state line.
As readers of this blog know, I firmly believe that the development of alternative fuel and renewable energy is the single largest economic opportunity in the history of humanity. Those that can create alternatives to our current consumption of energy have the possibility of incalculable wealth. When oil was first pumped from the ground in the later part of the nineteenth century the immediate market potential was tens of thousands of customers. The market potential for alternative fuels today is billions of customers.
But the State of California did not stop with this ground breaking legislation. Last week, the State sued six automakers over vehicle emissions. Stating that global warming is causing California significant harm the Attorney General sued GM. Toyota, Ford, Honda, Chrysler and Nissan, saying that they created a public nuisance by collectively discharging 289 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. It was stated in the lawsuit that these six companies were responsible for a fifth of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and a third of the emissions in California because of the great number of vehicles in the state.
Whether the State wins this lawsuit or not, just the fact of it is significant. In the early days of the lawsuits against the tobacco companies, the prevailing thinking was that there was no chance that the tobacco companies would lose. The vast majority of auto executives have shown a woeful lack of leadership and global citizenship in the area of increased mpg, lowered emissions and the development of hybrid and electric cars. Maybe the threat of a few lawsuits that could effectively bankrupt their companies might give them impetus to start to do what they should have been doing for the past ten years and is clearly essential to do.
I predict that, ten years from now, the legislation that the State of California passed this month and the lawsuit just filed will be looked upon as milestones. Letâ€™s hear it for the great State of California!