Climate action protesters at the Massive Forward on Climate rally on February 17, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Photo credit: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz via Shutterstock.

California climate opportunities can overcome science deniers

by Gary Graham Hughes, senior California advocacy campaigner

The result of the United States presidential election has been shocking to many people concerned about civil rights and environmental issues, including those concerned about climate change. While Trump’s climate change denialism poses many dangers, it is important to recognize that opportunities exist in California for securing climate policy that is scientifically defensible, economically equitable and socially just.

In the Trump era, California can and must continue to lead on climate. California’s well-established global climate leadership multiplies in effectiveness by the unparalleled expertise, strength and political momentum of grassroots advocates that call the state their home.

Notable for people concerned about climate change was this shared statement distributed the day after the election by California’s legislative leadership. California Senate President pro tempore Kevin de León and California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon made reference in their statement to not allow the presidential election to reverse the sense of “global responsibility” that is inherent in the example that California sets for other states to follow.

Two bills passed that the Trump election cannot affect.

This statement is of vital importance for setting a tone for the upcoming 2017 legislative session, but powerful climate legislation passed in California in the summer of 2016 under the leadership of de León and Rendon makes the difference for California to push past Trump’s denialism. Environmental justice organizations in communities around the state were mobilized in the capitol of Sacramento this past summer in an historic way that resulted in significant legislative successes.

Two bills passed that the Trump election cannot affect. SB 32 builds upon the landmark 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act that set the goal of reducing California greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. SB 32 is unprecedented by legally mandating the achievement of an emissions level of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Due to the fierce mobilization of environmental justice organizations, SB 32 explicitly did not further authorize the dubious Cap-and-Trade Program beyond the year 2020, opening the door to the development of effective climate policy in California that will not rely on unjust and ineffective pollution trading.

These recently passed laws are the legal foundation of future climate action in California.

In fact, the parallel bill that passed last summer, AB 197, demands that priority is made of direct emissions reductions in the communities bearing the brunt of the state’s pollution burden, paving the way for the establishment of an alternative to the scientifically flawed and economically unfair carbon market.

These recently passed laws are the legal foundation of future climate action in California. Their passage ensures an opportunity in California to pursue and demand real emissions reductions at the source, even in the daunting atmosphere of an incipient Trump presidency. In fighting Trump climate change denialism, we need policies that are based on sound science and justice, implementing actions that attain real emissions reductions at the source while protecting affected communities, and that do not rely on questionable pollution trading schemes that are, in their own way, a form of climate science denialism.

An activist participates in the #YesCapNoTrade demonstration outside of the September, 2016 CARB hearing in California.

Abandon false solutions in the market-based mechanism: #YesCapNoTrade

Trump’s climate science denial helps highlight the scientific fundamentals of effective climate policy on a global, national, state and local level. California’s depth of experience in responding to the economic and environmental threats of climate change has created a track record that helps us distinguish between what works, and what does not work. What we do know is that in California, the most efficient policies for emissions reductions are those rules and regulations that are considered “complementary measures,” being those measures that are meant to correspond with the market-based compliance mechanism, better known as Cap-and-Trade. Ironically, complementary measures such as the Renewables Portfolio Standard are responsible for the vast majority of real emissions reductions in California since the beginning of the implementation of the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act.

Cap-and-Trade itself, however, as a pollution trading scheme, is a vehicle for environmental racism and provides ephemeral and scientifically questionable results in limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Cap-and-Trade is estimated at this juncture to be responsible for less than 25 percent of accounted for emissions “reductions,” while the burden of ongoing pollution remains on the shoulders of those communities that live closest to emitting facilities such as oil and gas refineries and related infrastructure.

A study distributed by the California Environmental Justice Alliance exposes how Cap-and-Trade is resulting in an actual onsite increase in emissions from a significant number of those facilities that are included in the carbon market. The emissions “reductions” being claimed in Cap-and-Trade are for the most part due to carbon accounting tricks that allow carbon credits from forest offsets projects to be accounted for as emissions “reductions,” while in aggregate industrially managed forests are net emitters. The climate science is clear that considering carbon storage on land as a means to “offset” or “neutralize” emissions from burning fossil fuels is a scientifically flawed concept. Cap-and-Trade is an ineffective and unjust scheme that facilitates business as usual for climate-destroying fossil fuel industries.

This fight for real emissions reductions at their source is the crux of an equitable and scientifically defensible response to the dangers of Trump climate change denialism.

Environmental justice organizations in California have been firm in their opposition to the reliance on offsets in the California carbon market from the very beginning. The ongoing principled challenge to the unjust Cap-and-Trade Program was made evident when climate justice advocates demanded an end to pollution trading with a #YesCapNoTrade protest outside of a September California Air Resources Board hearing on the future of the program. This fight for real emissions reductions at their source is the crux of an equitable and scientifically defensible response to the dangers of Trump climate change denialism.

Crane lifting cut wooden logs.

California’s climate destruction secret: Industrial logging in California’s forests

The important role of protecting forests in mitigating climate change is too often taken for granted in California climate policy discussions. However, one of the overarching false narratives promoted by Cap-and-Trade is that magically forests are going to scrub the atmosphere of the greenhouse gasses emitted by the ongoing burning of fossil fuels. The science is clear that carbon sequestration in forests cannot “neutralize” ongoing emissions from burning fossil fuels. The reality is that carbon sequestration in land-based ecosystems such as forests have to be understood in the context of past deforestation and land use change. And if there is one thing that has happened, and unfortunately continues to happen, in California’s forests, it is deforestation.

Right now in California approximately 35,000 acres of forest are lost every year due to destructive industrial practices like clearcutting. The climate impacts and greenhouse gas emissions from the historic liquidation of globally important old growth forests, such as the redwood temperate rainforest ecosystem, have been largely ignored and even willfully obfuscated by state agencies and policy makers. Even with the acknowledgement of massive historic and contemporary forest loss, the California Air Resources Board and other responsible agencies still refuse to provide any data regarding the greenhouse gas emissions from logging and related industrial activities in the state’s forests. When calculated to include foregone sequestration from forest loss, the climate impacts from extensive use of fossil fuel based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and the damage done to soils in industrial harvest of trees, there is no question that current industrial forestry operations are a significant net source of greenhouse gas emissions. The Air Resources Board’s commissioned studies provide informed quantification of the significant greenhouse gas emissions from “silviculture applications” (i.e., logging) alone, which are compounded by very significant emissions from natural disturbance regimes such as fire — yet the state refuses to quantify the emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in their annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

California’s ability to develop world leading policy is still possible post-election with the opportunities and political objectives that came out of the last legislative session.

Soberingly, though hidden from the public eye, ongoing research reveals that carbon losses from ecosystems in California are as much as 5–7 percent of state carbon emissions from all sectors, which is the equivalent of about half the emissions from electricity generation in the state. Respect for science requires that this challenge of the reduction of the significant greenhouse gas emissions in California’s forests, including from industrial activities such as clear-cut logging, will be front and center in upcoming discussions regarding climate policy in California.

Activists at the Massive Forward on Climate rally on February 17, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Photo credit: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz via Shutterstock.

California must lead the way on climate

The courageous political leadership in the state capitol in conjunction with the activism of the California environmental justice community and traditional environmental allies will not be deterred in the shared efforts to protect communities and the planet, regardless of the denialism that Trump and his appointees stubbornly perpetuate.

California’s ability to develop world leading policy is still possible post-election with the opportunities and political objectives that came out of the last legislative session. A dim future of ecologically illiterate Trump climate science denialism contrasts with the shared desire in California to demonstrate global leadership in implementing equitable and scientifically defensible climate policy. This high standard of global leadership will make it difficult for the State of California to obfuscate or hide climate damage to protect powerful economic sectors, such as the oil and gas or timber industries, which profit from climate change denialism. Climate science denial must be fought and exposed in all its manifestations, especially in a state that celebrates its responsibility as a global climate leader. In the Trump era of climate change denial, California can and must continue to lead on climate.

Take action: Tell your Senators to block climate denier Scott Pruitt from leading the EPA!