Opinion: Clean energy moves forward — and California leads the way

This week, I hosted the Governors’ Global Climate Summit 3 at the University of California, Davis.  This summit showed the world that the green revolution is moving full-speed ahead, with or without international agreements, and the California voters’ defeat of Proposition 23 was the perfect example of that.

Since this summit last gathered, we have seen tremendous progress throughout the world.  Norway’s capital city of Oslo has reduced its energy consumption by 70 percent simply by using an innovative and energy-efficient form of street lighting, while the African region of Kavango planted 300,000 acres of trees, which will sequester 30 million tons of carbon dioxide.

The state of South Australia is on track to generate 33 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, and China is investing billions of dollars in electric and hybrid vehicles.  South Africa is developing a solar project that, when complete, will provide one-eighth of their nation’s electricity, and 29 of New York City’s universities and hospitals have accepted Mayor Bloomberg’s challenge to reduce their emissions by 30 percent in the next few years.

Here in California, we broke ground not only on the world’s largest solar project, but also on the world’s largest wind project, which will produce enough energy to power 740,000 homes.

Because of our environmental laws, California is 40 percent more energy-efficient than the rest of our nation, and one-third of the world’s clean-tech venture capital flows to California.  We lead the nation in clean energy patents and clean energy businesses now, and we are very excited for the future.

Of course, this transition is not easy.  Over the last several months an epic drama played out in California: a battle of old versus new.  Two Texas oil companies spent millions of dollars to place an initiative on our November ballot, Proposition 23, that would have killed our environmental laws.

They said that Proposition 23 was about saving jobs, but I found that a tough argument to believe, given that in California, green jobs are growing ten times faster than the statewide average. This was not really about jobs, but about their ability to continue polluting California, and making their wallets even fatter.  They claimed that the green-tech future is too costly, but what about the cost that their products are causing?  The cost of 19,000 people in California alone who die every year from smog, and the cost of millions of hospital visits every year for smog-related illnesses?

These oil companies blanketed our state with advertisements, pushing their lies.  Yet when I ran for governor, I made it clear that if the special interests tried to push me around, I would push back.  And that’s exactly what we did.

We formed a tremendous, bipartisan coalition, consisting of environmentalists, venture capitalists, health groups, businesses, unions, farmers, Democrats, and Republicans.  George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s Republican Secretary of State, joined our fight, because he believes that energy independence is critical to national security.  So did Tom Steyer, co-managing partner of Farallon Capital Management, who knew that our laws are increasing jobs in the state.

Never before had voters had such a clear and distinct choice placed in front of them.  The oil companies flexed their muscles to try and overturn our environmental laws, but we flexed right back.  And by a 22-point margin, the people said “No:” “no” to the greedy oil companies, “no” to their lies, “no” to their pollution, and “yes” to clean energy, jobs, and  a clean future.

The people made it clear to those special interests that here in California, our environment is not for sale.  And in doing so they sent a message to the rest of the nation and the world: California’s leadership is unwavering, our resolve is firm, and we are in this fight for the long-run.

I hope our success here in California encourages people around the world to fight back against special interests.  Because the science is on our side, economics are on our side, and the people are on our side.

The environment is too often labeled a Democratic issue, and yes, California is a democratic state.  But this year we appealed to voters across the political spectrum.  We focused not only on climate change, but also on jobs, national security, and public health.

As we move forward with our work, we shouldn’t get stuck on the one thing we may disagree on.  Rather, we should be talking about what we do agree on, and moving forward instead of backwards by continuing to promote clean energy.

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