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Dan Walters: Newsom war on climate change vs. reality
Calmatters Commentary

Dan Walters: Newsom war on climate change vs. reality

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Dan Walters: Prop 13, and a conflict 42 years in the making

Walters, Dan

While visiting the scene of one of California’s many horrendous wildfires last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared that climate change is the culprit and promised to step up the state’s already vigorous effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

“This is a climate damn emergency,” Newsom said while standing among some burned out trees near Oroville. “This is real, and it’s happening.”

“Mother Nature is physics, biology and chemistry,” Newsom continued. “She bats last and she bats 1,000. That’s the reality. The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes.”

The governor vowed to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road and otherwise green up the state, saying he had directed administration officials “to dust off our current processes, our current strategies and accelerate all of them across the board.”

“We have to step up our game,” Newsom declared. “As we lead the nation in low carbon green growth, we’ll have to fast track our efforts.”

Newsom is fond of making sweeping declarations of noble intent, but most have collided with reality, such as an unconditional pledge to build 3.5 million housing units and solve California’s chronic shortage of housing that he later scaled back to “an aspirational goal.”

There’s a stark reality about Newsom’s new pledge about battling climate change.

First and foremost, however successful California may be at reducing greenhouse gases, it will have virtually no impact on global emissions. This year’s wildfires will more than cancel out whatever progress the state might be making.

Moreover, to “step up our game” would impose new burdens on an economy that’s in deep and perhaps prolonged recession. Californians already shoulder electric utility rates, fuel prices, rents, home prices, state and local taxes and other living costs that are among the nation’s highest.

The state is falling well short of its ambitious goals for replacing cars and trucks with electric vehicles, so how would the state accelerate even more? With more subsidies from a state budget that’s already leaking red ink?

His latest pronouncements notwithstanding, Newsom seems to understand that there is a practical limit to California’s conversion into a carbon-free nirvana. The state was utterly dependent on natural gas electric generation to avoid extensive blackouts during summer heat waves and with Newsom’s tacit support, state regulators temporarily extended the life of several Southern California power plants that had been ticketed for closure.

The state’s most fundamental duty is to protect its 40 million residents from calamities such as deadly wildfires, and we’ve not been very diligent about that.

While climate change contributed to the ferocity of the wildfires, there were plenty of warnings about the dangers of allowing housing developments in fire-prone regions and the buildup of combustible fuel in forests — warnings that were largely ignored.

The Legislature adjourned without acting on proposals to direct more money into fire prevention and firefighting, but they should top the agenda for 2021, if not sooner in a special legislative session.

A good beginning would be to stop wasting money on the state’s ridiculous bullet train. The project consumes a large chunk of the proceeds from the “cap-and-trade” auctions of greenhouse gas emission allowances on the fiction that it will make a big dent in those emissions.

In fact, by the High-Speed Rail Authority’s own data, it would reduce automotive travel by, at most, just 1% when fully built-out. Shifting cap-and-trade funds to fire prevention and protection would imply that we’re getting real about climate change and not just indulging in feel-good virtue-signaling.

CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California's state Capitol works and why it matters.

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