Monday in San Francisco four elected officials boldly went where few politicians will these days – they talked openly and passionately about the urgent need to take action on climate change including putting a price on carbon. As California governor Jerry Brown noted, “To utter the term Global Warming is deviant and radical!”
But utter those words they did. Brown was joined by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier, Christy Clark, all of whom signed the signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. The plan lays out an ambitious agenda including putting a price on carbon in Washington and Oregon that will complement B.C.’s carbon tax and California’s cap and trade programs. In effect this would establish a carbon market in the world’s fifth largest economy.
The standing room only crowd included business representatives, labor union members and advocates. B.C. Minister of the Environment Mary Polak, said, “Leadership in climate action is good for your economy.” She noted that due to the B.C. carbon tax the province’s economy and population has grown while their fossil fuel consumption has dropped. B.C. implemented its carbon in 2008 in the midst of the Great Recession. Premier Clark’s team was told repeatedly it would cost them re-election. And yet, they were re-elected to a second term earlier this year.
Steve Clem, of Skansa, one of the world’s largest construction companies, said they were in support of this action plan on climate and energy because it was good for their business, “We are a growing as a company because of sustainable building practices not despite it.”
Another unprecedented occurrence on a day filled with them was the participation by representatives of the West Coast’s multi-million dollar shellfish industry. Their livelihoods are in grave danger as a result of carbon emissions. Oceans act like a massive sponge absorbing airborne carbon. This is changing the chemistry of the oceans, causing them to become more acidic. In fact ocean acidity has risen 30% since the Industrial Revolution. Due to its unique system of currents and upwelling events the Pacific Northwest is being impacted harder and sooner than any other place on the globe. Acidity levels in some places are already so high that oyster larvae cannot survive. Some shellfish growers have left the region; others have installed expensive monitoring equipment and shut down operations when ocean acidity is dangerously high.
The compelling case of economic opportunity was coupled with a strong sense of urgency and moral imperative. Washington Governor Jay Inslee said, “We are the first generation to face the impacts of climate change and the last to be able to do anything about it.” Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber stated that climate change was the greatest challenge we will face in the decades to come.
As part of the planning team for this unprecedented event I had a sense that it may turn out to be an important turning point in the history of climate action. By the end of the event I felt so even more strongly.
With Congress gridlocked and climate denyers wielding bizarre, scientifically-baseless power in DC, state-level leadership has never been more important. By coming together as a region West Coast governors and advocates are showing that climate action is economically smart and politically palatable. As more states take action some sanity may begin to “Trickle Up” to our federal government.
Video of the event can be found here: http://youtu.be/67a7sLgoI2g