Recess is over, Californians demand climate action from state legislators

The need for climate action, image by Shutterstock

OPINION – In the final week of what became the hottest month in history, it was reported that California is not on track to reach our 2030 climate goals to reduce emissions to 48% below 1990 levels. As we experience more extreme heat, droughts, water scarcity, and intense wildfires, California’s role as a climate leader for the nation and world is called into question. Our state legislature and Governor Newsom must now pass key climate bills to reduce emissions at the sources, hold polluters accountable for their climate impact, and support climate resiliency in frontline communities. Our recent poll confirms that our communities are demanding these solutions that will accelerate our progress towards the state’s climate goals.

While polls rarely reflect the state’s diversity, ours was administered in-language, and ensured the demographic communities that have seen higher rates of growth in the last decade, like voters of color, were included. The results were telling and closely mirror recent headlines: the majority of California voters not only believe that climate change is real (63%), but also notice the effects of climate change have become more severe (73%). What Californians don’t agree on is the state’s preparedness – more voters doubt that the state is prepared to effectively address climate change.

Black and Latinx voters and Inland Empire residents – communities disproportionately on the frontlines of polluting industries and climate change – see the greatest impacts in both health and pollution. While unsurprising to community and issue advocates, policy-makers are influenced by their corporate donors who block legislation popular with voters, especially voters of color: transitioning away from polluting fossil fuels to cleaner renewable energy and punishing corporate polluters.

California’s powerful fossil fuel industry spent more than $34 million last year to lobby the legislature, according to filings with the secretary of state’s office. This year is sure to exceed that amount, and after corporate donors are done lobbying state leaders it’ll be all funds-on-deck to target voters with misleading coalitions and ads. We’re already seeing paid ads from industry front group Californians for Energy Independence, whose initial coalition members included Western States Petroleum Association, California Independent Petroleum Association, and Independent Oil Producers’ Agency; and features a former Oxnard council candidate, largely funded by Chevron, as their community advocate.

As we near the final month of the 2023 legislative session, California leaders have the critical window to pass policies that Californians are advocating for.

It’s no wonder Californians are skeptical of their ability to sway state representatives to take action on climate, but it can be done! After years of inaction, the state legislature and governor passed a historic package of climate bills in 2022. Once again, in 2023, they have the opportunity to lead with climate action – and they need to with even greater urgency.

While Californians experience the devastating effects of the hottest summer on record in over a century – what could also be one of the coldest summers for the rest of our lives – the oil and gas industry is actively pouring millions of dollars into lobbying against climate bills and overturning environmental bills our state leaders have already passed.

As we near the final month of the 2023 legislative session, California leaders have the critical window to pass policies that Californians are advocating for. Senate bills 253 and 261 would require corporations to publicly report their carbon footprint and climate-related financial risks. Meanwhile, passing assembly bill 421 would improve and add clarity to the laws that govern our confusing referendum process, which oil companies exploit to deceive voters. This year the industry has abused the process to overturn the popular oil setback law we passed last year to create buffer zones that protect our homes, schools, and hospitals from the harms of oil drilling.

California is among the top states in the nation in electricity generation from renewable resources, and it is critical that we surpass the momentum. Voters are split in their faith in our leaders and the preparedness of our state to meet the moment –  but they’re not split in their refusal to sacrifice their health, homes, and futures for harmful jobs in their communities.

The climate is worsening and communities of color suffer daily from the effects of the oil and gas industry. Not one voter can afford for their representative to not represent them. When the 2023 legislative session comes to an end, we will release our annual Courage Score and California Environmental Scorecard so voters will know exactly what choices their representatives made and be better prepared to make their choices at the ballot box. Time is NOT on our side.

Irene Kao is Executive Director at Courage California; Mike Young is Political Director at EnviroVoters

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