Monday, September 27, 2010

Prop 23

On 27 September 2006, Governor Schwarzeneggar signed AB 32 into law. AB 32 is designed to reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions by around 25% by 2020. The language of the bill, as drafted and passed would require "the state board to adopt regulations to require the reporting and verification of statewide greenhouse gas emissions and to monitor and enforce compliance with this program, as specified. The bill would require the state board to adopt a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit equivalent to the statewide greenhouse gas emissions levels in 1990 to be achieved by 2020, as specified. The bill would require the state board to adopt rules and regulations in an open public process to achieve the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reductions, as specified".

There was and should be debate about whether this law is the best way to curb emissions in view of the real threat posed by pollutants and their contributions to global warming. But the premise of Proposition 23, on the ballot before Californians this fall, is that AB 32 is a job-killer, and that it should be suspended until unemployment remains below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters (something that has happened on exactly three occasions over the last 35 years). Prop 23 advocates want us to blindly assume that there is and always will be a negative correlation between tackling environmental and energy issues head-on and employment in the state...that no other factors intervene.

And the logic of Prop 23 is absurd. It doesn't substitute any measures that would allow us to make progress on the energy front. It simply puts efforts to address serious threats on hold. There is to be no incentivising of irresponsible industries which have shown reluctance where not downright hostility to setting their own standards. There is to be no prodding of an energy sector that has let us down time and time again, and which has proven that if left to themselves, markets do not work for our state community. This is a sector that needs prodding. Its failures have already cost too many people their jobs and security.

What Prop 23 would do is allow people to go on doing stupid, dangerous and destructive things for far longer than is necessary (assuming that such practises are ever necessary or acceptable). It would allow people to keep making mistakes, and to carry on with practises that we all know are damaging, costly and bad for our environment, and would guarantee that we--the state community--will have to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess after they're finished making short-term profits at the expense of long-term and necessary adjustments.

Again, the logic is mind-blowing. Imagine what parenting would look like if it followed this line of thinking. I can just see little Jimmy at the zoo, trying to stick his head into the Alligator pen, and his father saying to his worried mother, "Now, now dear, how will Jimmy ever learn that Alligators are dangerous if he doesn't get his head bitten off at least once? And who knows, maybe Gavin the 'Gator is a vegan? He looks friendly, doesn't he?"

And we're supposed to ignore the fact that the ad is being bankrolled by Valero (Oil Company, of San Antonio, Texas), Tesoro (Oil Company, of San Antonio, Texas), AESC (Oil and Gas lobby, of Houston, Texas). It is also supported by California oil lobbies like CIOMA, the Independent Oil Producers' Agency, and national energy lobbies like the National Petrochemical and Refiners' Association--one and all, you can bet, more concerned with their profits than with the well-being of our state's community. All of these lobbies have in common the desire to expand their short-term profits whilst dodging regulation that will lead to a more sustainable energy regime.

Texas (like Alaska) is smart enough to tax oil extraction in the state, and these companies are leeching off of California, relying on the acerebral opposition of the California Republican Party to a tax on extracted oil (the typically hypocritical anti-tax extremist, Sarah Palin, raised Alaska's tax during her curtailed stint as governor), and their own ability to buy votes through heavy advertising.

The danger we face is that backwards-looking and irresponsible energy lobbies will be able to derail even the most passing of efforts at coming to terms with the damage our lifestyles and habits inflict on our surroundings. However, a defeat for Proposition 23 would not only be a reaffirmation of a commitment to mitigate that damage, but a start to the liberation of democracy from the clutches of Mammon. Whether or not we think AB 32 is the ideal legislation for tackling global warming, we should reject Prop 23.

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