Opinion: Climate change is waging a war on California. We need to mobilize like it’s World War III

A Green New Deal makes sense for, and architected from, the globe’s 5th largest economy

By Saikat Chakrabarti, Bilal Mahmood and Sophia Tu

Special to The Examiner

Climate change has hit California. In 2021, 2.5 million acres burned, emitting 75 million metric tons of CO2 in just three months. A war is being waged on our coast, and yet no comprehensive legislation to address climate change has passed in Sacramento in nearly a decade. We see the results of climate change, but progress stalls.

There are three primary blockers to tackling climate change: cost, bureaucracy and inertia. It’s too costly to buy electric vehicles or to electrify homes for the average resident. Public transit, clean power infrastructure and zero-emission affordable housing projects take too long due to red tape. And government and industry ultimately aren’t collaborating to mass produce emissions-free solutions at the scale necessary to reach a 1.5 ºC reduction by 2030.

We have faced similar existential crises in the past, and every time we have come together to overcome threats through ingenuity, hard work and bold leadership.

In 1940, as the threat of World War II loomed, President Roosevelt delivered his seminal speech on creating the “Arsenal of Democracy.” In it, he set specific production targets: 185,000 planes, 120,000 tanks, 55,000 anti-aircraft guns and 18 million tons of merchant shipping. There was just one problem: the U.S. had nowhere near the capacity to do this. In 1939, the United States had produced just 3,000 planes. CEOs, generals, business leaders and of course politicians all thought Roosevelt’s targets were mere fantasy. Hitler believed them to be American propaganda.

Over the next five years, the U.S. built 300,000 planes — blowing past Roosevelt’s targets.

How did we do it?

Roosevelt enabled the government to relentlessly pursue his targets. He re-architected our government, creating a War Production Board that set production goals, helped share key technologies with factories and upgrade their production lines — and gave the Board explicit authority to iterate, experiment and cut any red tape that hindered those production targets. Roosevelt also created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to finance this industrial mobilization and to mass produce the planes, tanks and ships necessary for the war effort.

Our government invested in expanding existing industries and creating whole new ones for the war effort, and in the process created the greatest middle class our country has ever seen.

Compared to where we were at the start of World War II, we are already ahead of the game for solving climate change, and California is well positioned to be the leading state to do it: not just nationally, but globally. Unlike in World War II when we had to invent many new technologies, much of the technology needed to combat climate change — solar panels, electrified houses, clean transit, wind turbines, batteries, carbon removal — already exists. We just need to mass produce and deploy these technologies.

California is the fifth largest economy in the world. We have a huge industrial base, a spirit of entrepreneurship, access to capital and some of the best universities in the world. But most importantly, California is home to millions of people willing to get to work in the high wage jobs necessary to meet this challenge head on.

We need a new version of Roosevelt’s Arsenal of Democracy, one that matches this war-time urgency. We need a Green New Deal for California — one that tackles climate change head on through relentless government and industrial action, capturing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to create millions of high wage jobs in the industries of the future.

A Green New Deal can re-architect California’s government and economy to address both the supply and demand side of a clean industrial revolution.

Modeled on the War Production Board, we need to create a Green Production Board. It must assess the resources available to California to set production targets for clean energy infrastructure, buildings, agriculture, industry and transit, and it must be granted the authority to cut red tape to meet those targets. It should assist with technology transfer between businesses by helping new and old companies adopt best clean practices. It can create a pipeline to turn academic ideas born at universities into real solutions that reduce emissions. And it must coordinate between existing agencies and programs like the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, the California Air Resources Board and the Climate Investments Program to streamline our government’s response to the climate crisis.

Modeled on the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, we need to create a Climate Public Bank to finance the mobilization. The public bank can expand on existing programs like the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority to provide 0% interest green loans of up to $100,000 to every individual to purchase electric cars or bikes, solar panels, batteries and more. And this bank can provide low-interest loans and equity investments to businesses working to create a clean economy, such as farms moving to regenerative agriculture, factories retrofitting to remove emissions or startups building the next generation of clean tech. It will be funded in part by a carbon tax on oil and gas industries, and ultimately will be self-financed from its investments.

Through this California Green New Deal — with the Green Production Board for direction and the Climate Public Bank for investment – we can create vast amounts of new wealth in California the way our mobilization for World War II did for America. We can revitalize California’s manufacturing sector to be a global leader in green technology for the world. But we must ensure all this new wealth is distributed equitably, so our plan must be coupled with job training and placement for frontline communities and workers currently in fossil fuel jobs. Through this, we can build wealth and prosperity for working- and middle-class Californians at a scale never seen before.

The issue now is time. We have until 2030 to deliver on such a vision. We need to mobilize like it’s World War III. We need our elected leaders to push for bold solutions like the Green New Deal, and stand up to the special interests that block progress. Until they do — or we elect new leaders — the climate change devastation we are experiencing will worsen until it’s too late.

Let 2022 be the year that California becomes a model for America and the world on how to create a just, prosperous, net-zero emissions economy.

Saikat Chakrabarti is president of New Consensus and former chief of staff to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; he led the drafting of the Green New Deal. Bilal Mahmood is a candidate for CA State Assembly in San Francisco, former policy analyst in the Obama Administration, neuroscientist and entrepreneur. Sophia Tu is a strategy and operations consultant, former chief of staff to the president of the IBM International Foundation, and former director at IBM Corporate Social Responsibility

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