Global warming solutions dodged by the governor but understood by a little girl
This is a story about a muscle-bound governor, a nine-year-old girl, and some polar bears. The governor is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the girl is Emily Magavern, and the polar bears or at least photos of them served as backdrops for a pair of speeches the two gave on global warming.
Emily, the daughter of a Sierra Club lobbyist, gave her speech in Sacramento on April 3 at a press conference outlining legislation that Democratic lawmakers have introduced to create a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases."I don't want the polar bears to lose their homes," Emily told the gathering.That bill was triggered by a report from the Climate Action Team, which was commissioned by Schwarzenegger in June 2005 to recommend how California should address global warming. The report's suggestions include a tax on gasoline, the monitoring of factory emissions, a cap-and-trade system (which caps the amount of greenhouse gases that factories may produce and sets up a trading market in which businesspeople can buy or sell emissions credits), as well as other less contentious initiatives.But when Schwarzenegger came to San Francisco April 11 to outline his recommendations, he embraced almost none of the controversial schemes, with the exception of mandatory reporting of emissions (something most factories don't now report), even as he claimed climate change to be a "most pressing issue.""The debate is over, the science is in, and it's time for action," boomed Schwarzenegger, who then contradicted his own call to action by telling the crowd that he was concerned about scaring businesses out of the state. "Must take cautious steps and the right steps."There are telling contrasts between the approaches of our tough-talking governor and this soft-spoken little girl. In some ways it seems their roles are reversed, with Schwarzenegger unwilling to connect cause and effect and Emily taking a more mature view of the problem.Emily diagnosed what is essentially a simple problem. Humans are causing cataclysmic, global climate changes through excessive consumption of fossil fuels. The changes are having a negative impact on many species, including polar bears in the Arctic and animals closer to home, like California's state bird, the California quail.Some of the top contributors to the problem are the humans living right here in California, which is the world's 12th largest producer of greenhouse gases, of which 58 percent come from cars. The solution: Burn less fossil fuel, even if that's a difficult thing to do."We can't rely on oil forever," Emily said.In contrast, Schwarzenegger spun a compelling vision of what California's future would be like if it cleaned up its greenhouse gas emissions. Yet he remains politically intimidated by business interests, such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, which says that addressing global warming would hurt the state's economy.In the beginning of his speech at San Francisco City Hall, Schwarzenegger touted the need for immediate action by developing a mandatory reporting and cap-and-trade system, emphasizing the economic benefits of recently implemented initiatives. Yet he later said he opposed caps, leaving it unclear how such a system would work or exactly what he's calling for."We should start off without the caps until 2010," Schwarzenegger said. "Caps could scare off the business community."Schwarzenegger's response has many global warming advocates feeling deflated, while a number of businesses are breathing sighs of relief. The governor also appears to be letting the driving public off the hook by refusing to support the gas tax that his committee recommended, a problem addressed by Emily."If people try to not drive cars as much and try to drive cleaner cars, that would help the problem," Emily said.There are also many grown-ups out there who agree with Emily and say that dealing with global warming may be difficult, but doing so proactively and taking a lead role in the effort might actually help the state's economy by encouraging development of new technologies and industries rather than hurt it."The chamber's very good at having 20/20 vision in the rearview mirror," said Bob Epstein, cofounder of Environmental Entrepreneurs. "All businesses need are the creation of simple rules, and then the legislators can step back and let business innovate."That seems to be what the legislature is trying to do, with Assembly Bill 32 seeking to cap factory emissions and reduce them by 30 percent by the year 2020. But whether the governor will sign this bill (and others to come) and start saving the polar bears and Emily's generation is a question he seems unwilling to address. SFBG