Editorials

The planet’s on fire and California’s under attack. How much does Gov. Newsom care?

‘We need to do something now.’ Watch students rally to stop climate change

Students from all over the region — including Sacramento State and UC Davis — skip school to call attention to the climate crisis at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Friday, March 15, 2019.
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Students from all over the region — including Sacramento State and UC Davis — skip school to call attention to the climate crisis at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Friday, March 15, 2019.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised state budget summary is 114 pages long, but only one line will still matter in 20 years: “The May Revision also recognizes the need for careful study and planning to decrease demand and supply of fossil fuels.”

With these few words, Newsom made it clear: The era of reliance on dangerous and polluting fossil fuels must end, and California will lead the way. People who wish to continue living on this planet – also known as environmentalists – cheered. Oil lobbyists likely gritted their teeth.

In reality, few people noticed. A temporary suspension of diaper taxes, $1 billion for homelessness and Jerry Brown’s remaining $21.5 billion surplus sucked up much of the attention. Yet by making it clear that the state must reduce its supply of polluting fuels – not just its demand – Newsom seemed to pick sides in the most critical debate of our times.

Newsom does not fashion himself as a warrior against climate change. Yet as a policy wonk, and as a father of four, he must certainly grasp the urgency of the crisis.

It’s getting harder and harder to miss. Just days before Newsom released his budget, a United Nations report declared that 1 million species of animals and plants are at risk of extinction due to loss of habitat, exploitation and global warming. The week after he released his budget, carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere hit 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.

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Most people don’t know what that means. Thankfully, science educator Bill Nye the Science Guy made it crystal clear in a video that went viral: “The planet’s on f---ing fire!”

Of course, that’s become pretty obvious in California, where fire season has become a year-round hell of death and destruction.

Newsom’s minimalist nod to the moral urgency of global warming was welcome news in dark times, but it’s not enough. While California’s governor dispatches bureaucrats to research and plan, President Donald Trump has declared an aggressive, all-out war on the health of the planet and all its species – especially the species known as the Californian.

He’s moved to roll back California’s fuel economy standards for cars and attacked the Clean Water Act. Now he’s threatening to open up 1.6 million acres of California land to oil drilling and dangerous practices like fracking, which injects cancerous chemicals into the ground that can contaminate groundwater.

Targeted lands include areas near Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks, as well as ecologically-sensitive areas on the Central Coast.

Trump and his fossil fuel cronies, including former oil lobbyist and current U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Berhnardt, have made it clear: California is ground zero for their frenzy of environmental exploitation and destruction.

That’s why Senate Bill 1 is so important. It would preserve federal environmental protections and rules that were already in place when Trump took office.

It’s a smart policy designed to defend against constant attacks on California’s landmark climate policies. Whenever the White House announces a rollback or dismantling of a federal environmental protection, SB 1 allows California to automatically keep the rule in place. It does this by allowing state agencies to issue emergency regulations, or enact them through regular processes.

“SB 1 is California’s insurance policy against the exploitation of our natural resources and our people,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, the bill’s primary author.

SB 1 seems like a no-brainer. But in a capitol flush with oil industry cash, it’s not so simple. The fossil fuel lobby is working overtime to kill the bill. They don’t want their orgy of environmental exploitation disrupted by clever legislation designed to keep key protections in place.

Unfortunately, too many legislators are willing to sacrifice the future in order to realize short-term political gains. With their help, the oil lobby – which spent over $19 million in the 2017-2018 election cycle, acccording to CALmatters – successfully stalled a previous version of the bill, Senate Bill 49. Chevron alone spent more than $2.3 million in the first three months of this year, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Now they want to kill SB 1. Too bad we don’t have a governor with a serious interest in this issue – one willing to use his power as a counterweight to corrupt special interests with no regard for the future.

“Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money,” said Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish activist who has become a global spokesperson for young people concerned about the climate emergency. “It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few ... You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”

Gov. Newsom: Are you listening?

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