Opinion: California awarded ‘D’ grade for inaction on the climate crisis

Low grade due to lack of updated legislation and failure to meet climate goals

By Mary Creasman, Special to CalMatters

This decade is our last chance to prevent a climate crisis catastrophe and ensure a safe and healthy future for all Californians. But our state’s leaders are failing to act.

Each year, we assess if California is doing enough to fight the climate crisis. We look at the actions of the governor and state legislators. We see how climate legislation fared and if our leaders in Sacramento championed climate solutions or delayed our response to the crisis. And we share this information with voters.

This year, we have assigned California its first “D” grade for inaction on the climate crisis in 2021. This grade reflects that California is not on track to meet its current goals to address climate change and has not passed significant climate legislation in more than three years. This is despite the reality that we are experiencing severe climate impacts: wildfires, extreme heat, pollution and drought.

We’re plagued by “climate delayers” in Sacramento – members of the Legislature who talk about climate change but don’t back up those words with action. Many Californians may be surprised to learn that these “climate delayers” are Democrats; 18 Democratic legislators received failing grades in our 2021 Scorecard.

Because of these “climate delayers,” we are falling behind in lowering emissions and building out clean energy sources. From 2018 to 2019, emissions dropped only 1.6%. Based on the most recent data, the state needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at roughly two to three times its current rate.

Curious about why our state is failing to take meaningful steps to address the climate crisis? Follow the money.

Corporate polluters spend millions of dollars to influence the Legislature. A shocking 63% of California state legislators accepted direct campaign contributions from oil companies and major oil industry Political Action Committees since 2018. This includes 52% of Democrats and 96% of Republicans.

The influence of corporate polluters in Sacramento should infuriate us all. They have already done irreparable damage to our public health and economy. Their opposition to climate action could cost us our future. This month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report that underscores the impact climate change has on our lives. Their research makes clear that incremental attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change are not sufficient. The time is now for transformational, systemic change.

The good news is that we have the solutions to the climate crisis, what we’re lacking right now is the political will. We can make 2022 the year of climate action instead of climate rhetoric. We can step up and reclaim California’s place as a leader on climate policy.

Already, we’re seeing some signs of progress in 2022. In January, the California Senate passed Senate Bill 260, the Climate Corporate Accountability Act, introduced by Democratic Sens. Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Henry Stern of Calabasas. This bill would require big corporations conducting business in California to disclose their total greenhouse gas emissions. One hundred corporations are responsible for 71% of all global industrial carbon emissions, so corporate disclosures and reductions are critical.

Our biggest opportunity to make up lost ground on climate action is the state budget. With record surpluses, we have the chance to put a big dent in solving the climate crisis with large scale investments in clean energy, transportation and resilience. We are calling for at least 5% of the budget – $75 billion over 5 years – to be dedicated to fighting climate change. This would be a real downpayment making people’s lives better now while protecting our future.

Let’s continue this momentum. We must drastically reduce our emissions, clean up toxic air quality, transition our buildings and cars to clean energy, and make our communities and landscapes more resilient. We’re at the beginning of a new legislative session, and we will all be watching to see how our elected officials respond.

Will 2022 bring climate leadership in California again?

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