Taking stock – Part II: California – a frontlines leader in taking on GHG

There is no other place on Earth quite like California. In fact, if an independent nation, California’s economy would rank as the world’s fifth largest. That’s no idle boast.

Neither is the fact that the Golden State is 105 million acres in size* on which some 40 million residents have staked out some kind of homestead claim.

It is unfortunately, due, though, to these and factors related that have led to California having the environmental pressures it does, pressures like the burden created on account of its fairly sizable atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) output; California is considered to be – depending on which source you regard as correct – the world’s 12-to-20th largest GHG emitter.

Add to this that America’s 31st state has some of this nation’s most air-polluted cities and regions. Cities in the San Joaquin Valley and in the southland-region of Los Angeles and environs, consistently rank among the worst air offenders in all of the United States, this according to the American Lung Association as revealed in its annually released “State of the Air” reports each year since 2000. Particularly hard-hit are low-income communities and communities of color. When it comes to trying to change that reality, the state is all-in.

Which brings into sharp focus today’s discussion’s main underlying message and reason for being. It all revolves around reduction in the combustion of fossil fuels. This long-standing practice – though once useful – has outlived that usefulness when you weigh it against the environmental fallout that has come as a result. The fact that fossil-fuel combustion has contributed to the Earth becoming a hotter, less environmentally hospitable planet to live on means that it’s high time that the full complement of viable alternatives to such fossil-fuel combustion be adopted, whether in California or elsewhere throughout the globe.

A replicateable model to follow

So, let’s be clear right up front. There is no magic formula, one-size-fits-all paradigm totally effective in countering the process(es) that resulted in this Earth, our home, being on its current human-induced, accelerated and elevated atmospheric-warming trajectory.

But, at the same time, this doesn’t mean that a do-nothing approach, that is to say maintaining a business-as-usual societal ethos, is the right course of action either – it isn’t.

So, then, what is? This is the question many are asking and what is being considered here today.

For openers, California’s climate goal is to get to “carbon neutrality” by year 2045.* Preferably sooner. This is in addition to the state meeting earlier-specified GHG-emissions-reduction targets of 431 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) emissions by year 2020 (this target was met four years early in 2016, while the state reached a level of 404 MMTCO2e emissions output in 2020) and to a level 40 percent below that by year 2030.* Which means California is off to an excellent start and is well on its way to reaching its sought-after GHG-lowering goals.

Now enter the draft 2022 Climate Change Scoping Plan, a plan that . . . “identifies a technologically feasible, cost-effective and equity-focused path to achieve carbon neutrality over the next two decades while also assessing the progress the State is making towards reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030,” the CalEPA Air Resources Board (CARB) reported in its May 10, 2022 “CARB releases ambitious draft climate action plan to slash use of fossil fuels and reach carbon neutrality by 2045” news release.

Then there’s the proposed Advanced Clean Cars 2 program requiring all vehicles sold in California in 2035 and beyond to be zero emissions as called for in Executive Order N-79-20.

Add to this ongoing work to bring a state-of-the-art, world-class high-speed passenger rail system to the Western Hemisphere, the nation and the Golden State specifically. The trains are to be powered by 100 percent clean, renewable electricity.

Speaking of which, and talking renewably-produced energy, California is leading the charge: less than 50 percent of state power generation is fossil-fuel based.

The state, it just so happens, is also on the cutting edge when it comes to ZEV (zero-emissions vehicle) manufacturing and use. According to information on the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board’s Website (arb.ca.gov), there have been 1.5 million ZEVs sold in state to date with public charging and hydrogen fueling stations currently numbering 87,770 in total, both milestone achievements.

Even at that, this is hardly a reason for resting on one’s laurels. Those 1.5 million EVs represent, at most, six percent of California’s total registered motor vehicle numbers in which an annual 300-billion-plus miles are driven.

In the environmental cause, the 49er state is all-in

Being America’s worst-offender state for air pollution is not a distinction California relishes by any stretch of the imagination – not in the least. If anything, such a designation has served to strengthen a resolve to not stop with eco-friendly practices and programs aimed at effectively reining in toxic air pollutants in the urban setting as well as that which has plagued areas located well outside the urban/suburban/exurban-wildland interface regions, but goes farther by encouraging leaders and those on the climate fight’s front lines to take more proactive roles in addressing the climate and global warming crises by mitigating atmospheric greenhouse gases which, in some cases, involves capturing and sequestering or using-for-productive purposes carbon dioxide emissions, actions that speak to the leadership position the Golden State is maintaining, that is, as it has to do with combating air pollution, reversing global warming and in normalizing a changing climate.

This, if it isn’t already obvious, is something we can and should be taking stock of and in finding comfort in.

In Part 3, from an emissions-curbing standpoint, examined will be the building, commercial and residential sectors.

* Draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update, May 10, 2022 report from the CalEPA Air Resources Board, “Executive Summary” section.

An earlier version incorrectly stated that electric vehicles in California among all classes of motor vehicles registered in state amounted to 20 percent. The information has now been corrected and reflects a more real-world percentage.

⁃ Alan Kandel

Copyrighted material.

Last updated on Jun. 15, 2023 at 7:58 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.