California’s Play Book…Lessons To Be Learned

Billie Greer
Public Policy Advisor, She served as a member of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s senior staff.

A look back at how California took incremental actions over five decades to protect our environment and confront climate change, while at the same time growing the economy, should be a required exercise for our President, his advisors and Congress who are wrestling, often ineptly, with major issues impacting our state, nation and the world

There is a playbook within reach that could be emulated, whatever the issue might be.  Commenting on a newly published book, “California Goes Green…a Roadmap to Climate Leadership”, Joseph P. Kennedy II, noted that the lessons the authors draw are clear – “Progress on climate change must be bipartisan, engage stakeholders and the public, involve strong public agencies and link environmental protection to public health, the economy and jobs.”  The same requisites are transferable to solving other important issues.

The “California Goes Green” authors raise the question– why and how did California emerge as a global leader in energy policy, protection of the environment and climate action.  The answers to that question provide a tutorial for any city, state, province or nation looking to build transformative climate policy.

Lessons learned during the California experience abound in this book. The authors indicate that those with broad-based experience in problem solving, on both the Republican and Democrat sides of the aisle, have provided the leadership needed to confront and advance environmental issues. “A side benefit of this bipartisanship has been a constancy of approach to environmental problems that varied little, no matter who was head of the state, a city or an agency.”

It was observed that every California governor since Edmund G. “Pat” Brown was elected in 1958 has “not only moved the environmental football down the field, but suffered very few fumbles.” Although each governor addressed environmental and climate-related issues differently, each built on and amplified what came before.

That leadership is alive and kicking today on the international stage, with Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown sharing center stage in addressing climate change.  The book highlights Governor Jerry Brown’s launching of the “Subnational Global Climate Leadership MOU” known as the “Under2 MOU” with more than 100 jurisdictions signing on with a commitment to reduce carbon emission by 80 – 95 percent of their 1990 levels by 2050.  And Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who founded and continues to lead R20, a non-profit which addresses worldwide climate change through local actions. This forward-looking organization helps sub-national governments to implement low-carbon and climate-resilient projects, as well as to share best practices in renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to build a green economy.

Also called out in the book are other important players who have shaped California’s green roadmap — a citizenry constantly demanding a healthy environment; high tech entrepreneurs providing cutting edge green technologies to meet regulations and create new jobs;  environmental and energy agencies developing programs grounded in research produced by California’s  great universities;  experts using new methodologies to track greenhouse gas inventories; robust environmental organizations serving as watchdogs;  and Hollywood celebrities, with depth and cachet, communicating with the public about the importance of supporting environmental values.

Not that this has been a smooth journey. These lessons are recognized as “cautionary tales of success, failure, bullheadedness, big spending, political chess and ultimately a triumph in the creation of a new California energy and environmental ethos around preventing and adapting to climate change.”

More states, regions and nations are looking at California’s playbook.  May our president and Congress do the same – not only when it comes to confronting climate change but when dealing with other complex and demanding issues, as well.

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