California Forum

To combat climate change, California must modernize transportation

Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to sign one of 16 new laws aimed at easing global warming while aboard the electric ferry Enhydra in San Francisco on Sept. 13.
Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to sign one of 16 new laws aimed at easing global warming while aboard the electric ferry Enhydra in San Francisco on Sept. 13. AP

Transportation accounts for 41 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, producing millions of tons of carbon pollution each year. Pollution from cars and trucks threatens our health, and the planet’s sustainability.

Modernizing transportation is essential if we are to reverse climate change. It is also a smart business move to take advantage of the growing trillion-dollar global market for electric vehicles.


That is why some of the most prominent commitments at the Global Climate Action Summit this month were focused on zero-emission vehicles.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed eight EV-related bills while aboard the Enhydra – the first plug-in hybrid electric ferry – in the San Francisco Bay. One new law will require ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to electrify their fleets by 2030.

In the biggest collective international demonstration of demand for electric vehicles to date, 26 states, cities, regions representing a population of more than 122 million announced 100 percent zero emission vehicle targets.

Private companies also made new commitments. Hyundai Motor Co. announced a goal to decarbonize all hydrogen used in transportation by 2030. Two of the world’s largest EV charging networks committed to massively expand infrastructure replacing gas stations. EvBox announced plans to have 1 million mostly residential EV chargers installed by 2025. ChargePoint, a Silicon Valley start-up, declared a target of 2.5 million public chargers by 2025, a huge jump from 53,000 today. “The electrification of mobility taking place today is as fundamental as the advent of the internal combustion engine 130 years ago,” said ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano.

One might even say EVs stole the show at the summit; “Game of Thrones” actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau bolted off the stage carrying a scroll containing the summit’s Call to Action, which will be delivered via an electric vehicle to United Nations headquarters in New York, where Brown will join leaders for yet more climate action the week of Sept. 24.

We are in the beginning stages of an electric transportation revolution essential to preserving the planet. While the world’s cars are going electric, we require a more rapid transition.

How can we accelerate the shift? California is doing a lot right. Total electric car sales are now at more than 452,000, more than all other states combined.

Still, there are five essential players who must take bold steps. Public leaders must set aggressive agendas, such as Brown’s executive order calling for five million electric vehicles on California roads by 2030. Progressive executives at utilities and private companies need to make charging infrastructure available to everyone, including poor communities. Employers must electrify their parking lots and fleets. Automakers need to make more EV models to meet and spur demand. And consumers must buy electric cars that can be recharged at home overnight, saving on gas and reducing pollution.

We all need to do our part, and we need to do it quickly. The next time you decide to buy or lease a car, demand electric. You are in the driver’s seat.

Karen Skelton is founder and president of Skelton Strategies in Sacramento, director of partnerships at the Global Climate Action Summit, former chief counsel in the Federal Highway Administration and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. She can be contacted at Find the series (with more Monday on transportation policy) at