Last Thursday I presented at a Caltrans conference in Los Angeles. On my Southwest flight home, I grabbed a second-row window seat...next to Governor Jerry Brown.
I thanked him for his leading role in tackling the climate crisis, and gave him a quick tour of our Climate Benefits for California website. And what serendipitous timing; his destination the next day was the United Nation’s Conference on Climate Change in Paris.
Why did our Golden State Governor get an invite to this United Nations conference? Because when it comes to fighting climate change, California is leading the way. And the whole world is watching.
Take our cap-and-trade program, for instance.
One of the main things Governor Brown will do while in Paris is showcase California’s cap-and-trade program. Our climate program is no small pilot project; California is the most populous state in the U.S. If we were our own country, we would be the seventh largest economy.
What's more, with its emphasis on investing in regions that have historically been forced to bear the health, economic, and social brunt of climate pollution, California’s program is a model for climate protection that is rooted in social justice.
California is proving that climate protection efforts not only can, but must provide pathways out of poverty, an incredibly relevant example for leaders to consider as wealthy and developing nations struggle to find global solutions that everyone can agree to.We are tackling economic inequality as a way to protect our environment and the people who call our state home.
In particular, our cap-and-trade program commits a full 60% of investments to making it easier and more affordable for Californians to live in communities with great public transportation and safe walking and biking. Building more affordable homes near public transportation is an incredibly effective way to level the playing field for working families, create thriving communities, and reduce our state’s largest single source of climate emissions.
But success is no small feat. Even in places with robust public transportation (like the Bay Area), California is still a car-centric state. Highways are so engrained in our culture that how you say the name of an interstate can give away your native hometown.
Which is why it’s so important and exciting that our state leaders and advocates have pushed for (and won) so many climate victories.
And it’s why we need to keep California on the cutting edge. Right now there is a great opportunity to do that by investing in public transportation instead of highways.
Transportation is the largest single source of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 37% of our state’s climate pollution. Good public transportation helps reduce pollution, connects more people to opportunity, and saves families money.
So it’s a no-brainer that, if our legislators are serious about fighting climate change, they should support public transportation at every opportunity.
Right now our state leaders are engaged in a Special Session on Transportation where Senator Ben Allen and Assembymember Chiu have proposed a measure to raise $600 million dollars per year to improve and increase public transportation.
Their proposal would help California continue to lead on climate protection while making sure people can get where they need to go, when they need to get there, without a car.
One of the lessons we are learning from the UN climate talks is that cities can – and should – play a large role in reducing our global greenhouse gas emissions. With this special session, California has the ability – and the responsibility – to invest in public transportation instead of highways. It could literally save the planet.
More resources on the UN Conference on Climate Change: