Lawmakers have chance to block worst aspects of climate change

An eerie orange sky over San Francisco, caused by smoke from wildfires linked to climate change. (Photo: Benny Marty, via Shutterstock)

Not many people have seen how state budgets get put together and state legislation gets enacted, but I have.

For decades, I helped shape the state’s policy priorities as a senior member of the Assembly Speaker’s Office – including being the lead Assembly staffer on the historic passage of AB 32, which made California the first state in the nation to place caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

So trust me when I say, California’s elected leaders have a huge opportunity to stave off the worst impacts of climate change by enacting the governor’s current Climate Budget.

In recent years, California has experienced the most destructive climate-caused wildfires in our state’s history, with heartbreaking consequences. Millions of acres have gone up in flames, with hundreds of lives and homes lost in these tragedies. With consistently rising temperatures and less rainfall, the threat of intensifying wildfires looms across the state.

Our state has neglected to take the necessary, comprehensive actions we need to tackle the climate crisis.

When climate disasters and extreme weather events occur, we are left to shake our heads and wonder – how did we get here?

Though the problem is far-reaching, the answer is simple: While polluters pollute and politicians rest on California’s reputation as a climate leader, our state has neglected to take the necessary, comprehensive actions we need to tackle the climate crisis.

And because the impacts of this piecemeal approach run so deep, we can no longer afford to continue to apply just band-aid solutions.

That’s why NextGen Policy is launching Climate 100. The Climate 100 goal is this: Put 100 percent of our taxpayer dollars to work in a manner that is consistent with our state’s climate goals and what science tells us is necessary.

The Climate 100 project will outline how we can use the full power of the California state budget as a tool to ensure that we’re living up to the values we espouse. We’re asking our state’s leaders to make sure that each budget investment we make aligns with our climate values as a state.

Climate can no longer be treated as a niche spending category. Our leaders must consider how every budget line item and government program is connected to the climate crisis, and commit to a bold, integrated investment strategy that helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, advances our clean energy targets, fosters equity and prosperity, and builds more resilient communities.

The most definitive proof of a state’s values and priorities is its budget.

This is not only the right thing to do and an investment in our future, but makes good economic sense, as well. Every year, the state spends billions of dollars to fight wildfires, alleviate drought conditions, and rebuild damaged infrastructure.

Protecting California from accelerating climate-related harms will require us to think long-term and reconsider how our state invests in the increasingly fragile physical systems we depend on. If we do it right, California’s transportation networks, buildings, schools, energy and water systems, and infrastructure of every kind can be among our strongest assets in the battle against the climate crisis.

Imagine if all of California’s school and city buses were zero-emission vehicles. What if all school lunches were from local and sustainable sources? What if every state building were powered by solar or another renewable energy source?

The most definitive proof of a state’s values and priorities is its budget. How our state prioritizes spending choices will determine whether California’s commitment to “fighting the climate crisis” will be action with integrity worthy of California or just political rhetoric.

This year, the California Legislature has the opportunity to enact a budget proposed by the governor that would invest $37 billion over 6 years to address the climate crisis. This unprecedented level of investment far surpasses that of any other state. Enacting the Climate Budget that Gov. Newsom has proposed would be a giant step towards re-establishing California as the global climate leader.

But we can’t stop here – we must do more. Every aspect of state government spending could help protect our people, our natural resources, and our economy from the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We just need to ask how?

When we ask and answer this question, we will rise to the enormous challenge that the climate crisis presents, and, in so doing, we will build a more resilient, equitable, and prosperous California.

Editor’s Note: Arnold Sowell is the executive director of NextGen Policy, a California-based nonprofit organization advocating for progressive policies on climate, affordable housing, voting rights, health care, criminal justice reform, education, and other issues.

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