At a time when both liberals and conservatives are deeply frustrated with the federal government, it is wonderful to see the California Legislature succeed in taking important action to protect the environment. This week, the Assembly and Senate, with strong bipartisan support, renewed until 2030 the cap-and-trade plan to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. By itself, this will help deal with the problem of climate change and hopefully inspire other states and nations to take similar action.
I find it astounding that environmental protection has become a political issue and that top government officials, including the president and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, deny the link between greenhouse gas and climate change. The science is settled and clear.
There is so much to criticize about government and its failures. A success like this is certainly worth applauding.
Simple observation confirms this. Last year was the warmest ever for the earth, which beat the record of the year before, which beat the record of the year before that. Most of the warming has occurred in the past 35 years, with 15 of the 16 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.
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Global sea level rose about 6.7 inches in the last century, but the rate in the last decade is nearly double that of the last century. There is no doubt whatsoever that the planet is warming – sea temperatures are at record highs, the polar ice caps are melting, extreme weather conditions that endanger lives are ever more common. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after a thorough review of the evidence, concluded: “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”
Thankfully, Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature realize the dire problem. The cap-and-trade policy, which went into effect in 2013, works by the government setting a maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions and issuing permits for emission of pollutants which can be sold among companies. Factories and refineries can buy and sell permits to emit carbon dioxide. Cap and trade thus uses the free market system to control pollution.
Cap and trade works. In the first two years of the program, emissions from sources under the cap in California declined 4 percent. The European Union’s Emissions Trading System created a cap-and-trade system for the European Union and emissions were 15 percent lower in 2015 than when the program started in 2005.
The goal of the Paris climate agreement is to restrict the global temperature to the 2 degrees Celsius increase that scientists say is the maximum compatible with civilization as we know it, and to aim for the 1.5 Celsius limit that poor and island nations see as crucial for their survival. Under the accord, the United States had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and commit up to $3 billion in aid for poorer countries by 2020.
The United States overall has contributed more greenhouse gases to the environment than any other country and still today is the second worst among all nations in this regard. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has made the misguided and foolhardy decision to repudiate the United States commitment to the Paris accords.
In light of this, and at a time when Trump and the Environmental Protection Agency are rescinding environmental protections, it is crucial that states do all they can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. California is the largest state in the country and the second largest producer of carbon dioxide through fossil fuels among the states.
Hopefully, other states will copy California’s approach as a way to protect the environment in the most economically efficient way. Also hopefully, the bipartisan support in California can be a model for the country. The extension passed 55 to 22 in the Assembly and 28 to 12 in the Senate.
There is so much to criticize about government and its failures. A success like this is certainly worth applauding and using as a reminder for the good that government can and must do.
Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.