A new proposed initiative for the California ballot purports to defend the people of California’s unalienable right to air, water, energy, and natural resources by prohibiting the government from regulating the industries that exploit these common resources.

This referendum is either an attempted shell game on the citizenry or a product of dire ignorance. If you give industry free license to appropriate commonly-held natural resources, spew pollution into the air and water, and forgo investment in clean technologies that benefit the private and public sectors, you destroy the very basis of modern society. Without clean air and water, we are stymied; economically and socially, we cannot progress. What will we tell our grandchildren when their turn comes to claim their birthright of adequate natural resources and clean air and water? Will we have to tell them that we are sorry, but we asserted our “unalienable right” to use everything up? This is not acceptable. The idea that we can “protect” our rights by allowing unmitigated pollution and laying waste to our natural resources is retrograde thinking more appropriate to the 19th Century than the 21st.

We already have legislation that guarantees equitable access to natural resources, promotes sound economic development and job growth, and enhances our international competitiveness in the growing field of clean technology: AB 32, California’s Clean Energy Act. The essential purpose of AB 32 is to protect the state’s resources for current and future generations. Declaring our “right” to clean air and water, a beautiful coastline, and houses that are safe from forest fires is insufficient. California’s landmark climate legislation, AB 32, actively protects these shared interests from avoidable degradation. Similarly, people living along the Gulf Coast wouldn’t benefit much from passing acts declaring their right to clean water and a thriving marine ecosystem while a loosely regulated oil industry is allowed free reign to pollute the same. We are now seeing the results of an inadequately monitored fossil fuel sector as the Deepwater Horizon tragedy continues to play out.

Our dependence on dirty fuels robs us of our unalienable rights – it does not protect them.

The only way to secure the “right” to clean air and water and abundant natural resources is to move away from dirty fuels so that they won’t continue to degrade the places where we live and work.

AB 32 is the best hope we have of providing clean air and clean water for our descendants. Unlike the proposed initiative, it doesn’t fecklessly declare our right to a clean environment and abundant natural resources, then allow for their ruthless destruction. Instead, it lays out a rational, pragmatic path to sustainable resource use, economic progress and environmental protection. If we don’t protect AB 32, we could find ourselves mired in pollution, but still declaring our right to clean resources – somewhat akin to the oil-covered pelicans on the Gulf Coast declaring their right to fly.