California governor calls for state to double-down on low-carbon, green growth

Image: California Governor Gavin Newsom (left) and Joel Makower (right) on the Verge19 stage. Credit: Office of the Governor of California and Governor Newsom Press Office
Image: California Governor Gavin Newsom (left) and Joel Makower (right) on the Verge19 stage. Credit: Office of the Governor of California and Governor Newsom Press Office

Displaying a mastery of California climate issues as he keynoted a major sustainability conference, VERGE 19, in Oakland, CA last week, a relaxed and smiling Governor Gavin Newsom extolled California’s climate leadership and vowed continued opposition to the Trump Administration.

Dreams with Deadlines

Now in his ninth month at the helm of the world’s fifth largest economy, Newsom voiced pride in California. While conceding that the state still has “an enormous amount to do,” Newsom said one area where California has truly excelled is goal-setting, referring to the state’s goal of getting 100% clean power by 2045 and a carbon-free economy thereafter.

Citing California’s plan to reduce GHG emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and to get 5 million EVs on the roads by 2030, Newsom cautioned that “goals are just ‘dreams with deadlines.’”

Strategy Integration

“We’ve got to translate those goals into investments and action, and in order to do that,” he said, “you’ve got to integrate your strategies. I see housing as a climate issue. I see transportation as a climate issue.

“My job is to get in the ‘how’ business” of mapping out local implementation strategies.” That, the Governor explained, means “localizing solutions and incorporating our values in a much more robust, comprehensive way.”

Housing and Climate Change

Addressing the connection between climate change, housing, and transportation, Newsom advocated focusing on encouraging urban infill via “density bonuses” in and around transit corridors and striving to reduce vehicle miles traveled.  

Pointing to the state’s “audacious” 3.5 million unit housing goal, Newsom urged pursuing the goal “in a thoughtful and judicious way that doesn’t dismiss” climate, housing, and transportation linkages.

 “I’m always surprised how little we talk about land use, and how that should be more of a point of focus and emphasis particularly in a state as dense as California,” he said.

California’s Budget Surpluses

Enthusiastically touting the state’s economic achievements, the Governor pointed out that the state has had 114 months of net job creation, the longest stretch in California’s history, with the state’s lowest unemployment rate “in modern recorded history.”

“Our GDP is substantially outperforming the rest of the nation and some of our key state competitors,” the Governor said. “We’re enjoying the biggest surplus in California’s history, and we are moving forward with a fully functioning cap-and-trade program, and we are detoxifying and decarbonizing our economy.”

This, he said, is “not despite our environmental goals, but because of it:  Five times more clean energy jobs in the state than fossil fuel jobs. . . . We’re proving the paradigm and the genius that is ‘and’ versus the tyranny that is ‘or,’” he said, “And we’re doing it at scale that no one else is doing it in the United States and, I would argue, anywhere else in the world.”

Joel Makower, founder of GreenBiz, the conference organizer, asked the Governor to explain a recent Executive Order to guide the state’s finance department in administering the state’s huge pension funds for teachers and other state employees.

 “We move markets as it relates to investments,” Newsom replied.  “We have an investment portfolio . . . that’s north of $700 billion.

 “You want to skate to where the puck will be,” Newsom said.  “We know where the economy is going. We know where our opportunities lie. Why are we not investing in those opportunities today with intentionality, with focus, with an aggressive posture and stance?”

Newsom said he wanted the pension funds to focus on moving markets with their investment portolios in the low carbon-green growth arena.

“Why not back up that [goal] with real action and real investment, and why not have PERS and STRS [the pension funds] leading the way?”

Responding to a question from Makower about making sure the state’s investment and its green growth are inclusive and “bring everybody to the table,” Newsom said California is still failing on inclusion.

 “I don’t need to give you any more evidence: walk the streets of Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco, LA, Bakersfield, or Modesto for that matter [and] you see the ultimate manifestation of our failure on that issue of inclusion with  the homeless crisis in the state. The fact [is] that we’re the richest and poorest state.” You can’t have an economic and growth agenda without having an agenda around inclusion, environmental justice, and economic justice, he added.

Referring to the fact that Newsom and the state have “served as a bulwark” against the Federal government’s opposition to climate action and environmental regulation, Makower asked whether the state’s “end game” is about just holding back the roll-backs of regulation or whether Newsom sees potential for California to have a positive influence in furthering national and global progress.

 “Its defense and offense,” Newsom replied, “but the best defense is an aggressive posture and an aggressive alternative to the status quo. Success leaves clues. The power of emulation. California is proving what you have all been asserting for a generation and we’re doing it at a scale no one else is doing. That’s the offensive strategy. We have a point of friction at the moment where we’re playing offense and defense and that’s over tailpipe emissions, vehicle emissions, and Trump is being challenged by California’s unique status as a leader going back to 1967, a leader that has established itself through Republican not just  Democratic Administrations.”

Referring to California’s Federal waiver on emissions standards that allowed the state to lead the nation on tailpipe emissions standards, Newsom said, “As a consequence, we have four large automobile manufacturers that have decided to agree voluntarily to the higher emissions standards out of the state of California than to support the rollback of those standards which now are referred to as ‘the Obama era standards.’ And that has put Trump in this unbelievably powerless position which has frustrated him to no end. Only California can do that to him.” The state currently has over 60 lawsuits against the Trump Administration.

“So I am very proud to live in the most un-Trump state in America [where] the goal is to defeat him. Defeat his posture, his denialism, his ignorance, his stupidity, his arrogance… We will defeat him, because there’s too much at stake…we cannot allow him to succeed.

Image: California Governor Gavin Newsom (left) and Joel Makower (right) on the Verge19 stage. Credit: Office of the Governor of California and Governor Newsom Press Office

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John J. Berger, PhD. is an energy and environmental policy specialist who has produced ten books on climate, energy, and natural resource topics. He is the author of Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to the Climate Crisis , and Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science , and is at work on a new book about climate solutions. Dr. Berger ( ) also founded and directed Restoring the Earth, Inc., a national nonprofit organization that fostered the repair of ecological damage through research, consulting, public policy development, ecosystem restoration, and public education. The group demonstrated to industry that restoration is a sound business practice and inspired the public to initiate numerous environmental activities. The organization's work led to the NRC's national study on aquatic restoration and influenced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to place greater emphasis on restoration and ecosystem management. Dr. Berger also co-founded other national nonprofit public interest organizations, such as the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Inc. of Washington, D.C. He holds a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis, a Master’s in Energy and Resources from U.C. Berkeley, and a bachelor’s in political science from Stanford University. Follow John J. Berger on Twitter:

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