According to NASA, 2010 has been the hottest year on record. Atmospheric CO2 is at an all time high and global warming is rearing its sweltering head. How can we prevent this from accelerating to the point of no return?
Tragically, the December, 2009 UN Climate Change negotiations in Copenhagen failed, leaving no serious global plan or commitment in place. Fortunately in California, we have AB32 (the Global Warming Solutions Act), which sets greenhouse gas emission reduction goals for the state and SB 375 (the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act), which connects them to land use and transportation planning.
The California Air Resources Board (ARB) and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) recently held a target setting public workshop in Los Angeles on greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Under SB 375 the ARB is required to set passenger vehicle greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2020 and 2035 for each of the 18 metropolitan planning organizations in the state like SCAG. Since approximately 40 percent of greenhouse gases nationally come from passenger vehicles and light trucks, ways must be found to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled, as well as increase efficiency and the use of cleaner, renewable fuels.
The ARB has set a draft 5-10 percent statewide reduction goal in per capita emissions relative to 2005 levels for 2020 and a 3-12 percent reduction for Southern California for 2035. Given the severity of the climate change crisis and the need to substantially reduce total, not just per capita emissions, is this enough?
The ARB spoke of the time needed to change land use forms and transportation infrastructure, and to account for the recession and economic recovery. Jacob Lieb of SCAG reported on our region’s progress and outlined five scenarios that vary in the intensity of land use and transportation system components. The goal he said is to find a scenario that is both “achievable” due to economic constraints and “ambitious” because of the urgency of the crisis.
We can’t afford to be anything less than ambitious. Polls consistently show large majorities of Americans believe the Earth is warming precipitously as the result of human activity and they want the government to act. Yet too often government does not. Why? We have to look at the way we elect people and the rules under which they govern.
Despite the recent eco-catastrophe in the Gulf (that should remind us how dangerous and unsustainable our climate change-inducing fossil-fuel dependence is), efforts to pass a federal climate change bill in 2010 are going nowhere, in part because of the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate. Here the minority prevents the majority from acting.
To control foreign oil, incredible sums are spent in Iran and Afghanistan, even though most Americans would prefer they be spent at home. For what the US spends in a few weeks on war, not only could the Exposition Rail Line to Santa Monica have already been funded and built, but an entire regional rail network across Southern California. In that case, the ARB/SCAG workshop could have focused on complementary local land use patterns and transit connections to already existing regional public transportation corridors, and we’d be 20 to 30 years ahead of where we are now.
Part of the reason we are behind is that our electoral system is 100 years behind. Supermajority contortions like the 60 vote U.S. Senate filibuster and the two-thirds vote of the California Legislature required to pass a budget are understandable responses, however ultimately flawed, to the inflexibility of an electoral system based upon singe-seat, winner-take-all districts and the kind of government that results from them.
It’s not a surprise that Europe is far ahead of the U.S. on climate change. They use systems of proportional representation to elect their legislatures, where if a party gets 20 percent of the vote they get 20 percent of the seats. These systems bring all points of view to the table in government and have allowed Green Parties and others who embrace climate change solutions to be elected, raise issues and shift debate. The German Green Party made climate change its number one issue for federal elections in 1990. As a result, a later Green-Social Democratic coalition government enacted a successful carbon tax that discourages greenhouse gas emissions by creating a tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels, while incentivizing employment by reducing taxes on labor.
It’s fantastic that AB32 passed in 2006. But it needed to have come 15 years earlier, along with the move to create jobs through a green economy. We need a political system that gives voice to these cutting edge ideas sooner than later.
California took a backwards step with the passage of Proposition 14, which would raise the cost of elections and limit voter choice. But Proposition 14 was also a frustrated response to the under-representative nature of government via winner-take-all, single-seat districts. If it is thrown out in the courts, and there are good reasons to believe it will be, if we want to really deal with climate change, it will be time to change the political climate, through electoral reform that more fully represents the people. A system like that is the kind I would trust more to care for the people and the planet.
Linda Piera-Avila is currently running as the Green Party candidate for the 41st Assembly District. She resides in Santa Monica where she works as a physical therapist and serves as a member of the Urban Forest Task Force. Linda can be contacted on Facebook and at www.linda-piera-avila.org.