In summary

We find ourselves at a crossroads for what the future could look like. Now is the time for the rest of the nation to join California in committing to climate action.

By Eleni Kounalakis, Special to CalMatters

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, is the 50th lieutenant governor of California and the first woman elected to the position, press@ltg.ca.gov.

California is on fire. And the wildfires we’ve seen already this year are not just alarming – they’re a forewarning. In 2020 alone, record temperatures and tens of thousands of dry lightning strikes led our state to experience five of its six largest wildfires in recorded history. 

Further, President Donald Trump’s denial and deregulatory actions accelerated the damage. This administration’s myopic “America alone” approach weakened critical alliances with other democracies and our nation’s ability to lead the world in fostering the growth of promising clean energy. And this is while countries like China seek to embarrass us while making bold promises to tackle climate change.

Quite frankly, our country is running out of time before the damage becomes irreversible, and extreme weather is not a seasonal rarity, but the norm.

Where the federal government fell short, California has stepped in. Driven by what science has told us about climate change, we led the charge for states and cities across the country to fulfill the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and we were a founding signatory of the Under2 Coalition committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And while we are the world’s fifth largest economy with the power to turn some of these tides, we can’t do it alone. We find ourselves at a crossroads for what the future of our state, our country and world could look like. Now is the time for the rest of the nation to join us in committing to climate action.

The path of climate inaction 

“Uninhabitable hell” awaits us if we don’t start taking dramatic steps to mitigate the mounting climate crisis, according to a recent United Nations report

And in terms of the harm we’ll see in my lifetime, scientists and their rigorous projections tell us that if we don’t take action now, this wildfire season will be minor compared to the devastation of the future.

Our state’s coastline, which already is disappearing under a rising sea, will continue to erode. And coastal cliffs, like those in Santa Barbara and San Diego, may even crumble at twice the normal rate. Mass extinction of wildlife is expected

Some experts even predict the future of human beings ourselves is at risk – reminding us that it may not be melodramatic to say that the existence of humanity is in question if climate action is not taken. 

The path of climate action 

Despair and destruction is not inevitable. We all have a choice to demand climate action. And in doing so, a future of innovation, opportunity and prosperity could await us. 

While Washington walked away from climate action and let the world down, California stepped up to work with national and subnational governments to establish ourselves as a standard bearer of what could be. Across multiple bipartisan administrations, we’ve created a cap-and-trade program, passed legislation to pursue 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045, set ambitious zero-emission vehicle goals and are charting a path for a carbon-neutral economy by 2045.

Imagine if the whole country, not just a handful of states, robustly invested in alternative energy, significantly reduced carbon emissions and innovatively established carbon recapture mechanisms. And now it may actually be possible with a Biden administration.

More than 10 million clean energy jobs across the country could be created. Clean air and water could be enjoyed by all – not just the most fortunate – and justice achieved for indigenous peoples and communities of color who have borne the disproportionate weight of environmental pollution.

This country was founded on the premise that our actions could forge a better future for ourselves. We could shock the world with the speed and scale in which we build a booming clean, renewable energy industry.

California’s state motto is “Eureka!”, Greek for “I have found it!” 

An expression often used for problem-solving and discovery, it also can signify the promising future that climate action provides. Let’s find it together. 

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