Rebel with a cause: Jerry Brown and the climate

Observing a rebel

Is that a young Jerry Brown?

It may be a stretch to continue calling Jerry Brown a rebel after all these years, but today he did revisit James Dean’s old haunt, the Griffith Observatory—and he shook up the fossil fuel establishment. Brown signed into law a landmark piece of climate legislation, Senate Bill 350, and California is now a bit further along the path to a fossil free future.

The bill establishes new benchmarks for the year 2030 on two fronts:

  • Raising California’s renewable portfolio standard from 33% to 50%
  • Increasing energy efficiency in buildings by 50%

SB 350 makes these standards permanent, trackable, and enforceable by enacting them into law and building on the accountability mechanisms already in existence to ensure they are fully implemented.

A previous version of the bill included a provision to reduce petroleum use by 50% by 2030. Unfortunately, heavy lobbying misled some legislators, and that portion of the bill was dropped. On the other hand, existing clean air, clean energy, and climate-related statutes remain in effect, and the California Air Resources Control Board has the authority to effectively reduce petroleum use by limiting carbon emissions, perhaps even to the same 50% mark.

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León has pushed SB 350 and other climate bills through the legislature; today he spoke of “democratizing” the climate movement and creating a “quiet revolution.” As he said: “California sets climate goals and accomplishes them with a positive impact on the economy and our health. Let’s continue showing the world how it’s done.” At today’s ceremony, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said it’s De León who is the climate rebel.

Governor Brown looked out on the light haze in Los Angeles today, and said that we have to avoid “climate catastrophe,” and the climate skeptics must be brought back to Earth, since they’re currently way out there, “living on Pluto.” We’re ahead of Shanghai, but we have a long way to go. Once, he said, Republicans were leaders in the campaign to “SOS—Stamp Out Smog,” and Nixon and Reagan were among those pushing the envelope. “Oil has been the source of our prosperity,” Brown said, “but now it’s the source of disaster.”

Yes, it’s looking good, Governor. Your actions on the climate are beginning to catch up to your words. Just a couple of other things. Fracking doesn’t help, and you could do something about that. And, oh yes, there’s one more bill to sign, and we’d like to ask you to take care of that this week, too: sign SB 185 and remove coal from the portfolios of CalSTRS and CalPERS. Then you can really call yourself a climate rebel.

UPDATE, 10/8: Let’s hand it to Jerry. Today he signed SB 185 for coal divestment, along with seven other climate bills. Maybe he does still have a rebellious streak.


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