California is about to find out what a truly radical climate policy looks like
Vox, September 9, 2016
Within the United States, California is No. 1 (by far) in solar power and No. 3 in wind power. It boasts the third-lowest carbon dioxide emissions per capita behind New York and Vermont. Since 2000, the state has managed to shrink its overall carbon footprint slightly even as its population grew and economy boomed:
But now California is taking on a far, far more audacious task: trying to prove to the world that it’s possible — desirable, even — to pursue the really drastic emission cuts needed to stave off severe global warming.
The state is already on track to nudge its greenhouse-gas emissions back down to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Then, in late August, after much fierce debate, the California Assembly and Senate passed a new bill, known as SB 32, that would go much further, mandating an additional 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030:
This Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law.
It’s hard to overstate how ambitious this is. Few countries have ever achieved cuts this sharp while enjoying robust economic growth. (Two exceptions were France and Sweden in the 1980s and ’90s, when they scaled up nuclear power.) The EU is also aiming for a similar 40 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2030, though they’ve got a head start.
And California is facing some serious hurdles. The state’s largest source of low-carbon electricity, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, may shut down in 2025. The climate plan faces opposition not just from influential industries like oil and manufacturing, but also from a fair number of Democrats. Making things harder still, California’s signature climate policy, an economy-wide cap-and-trade program for CO2 emissions, is in legal peril — and last month’s vote didn’t help.