Gov. Jerry Brown’s Cap-and-Trade Program Is a Step in the Right Direction, but Little More

Politics Features climate change
Gov. Jerry Brown’s Cap-and-Trade Program Is a Step in the Right Direction, but Little More

The California Assembly voted Monday, in a rare bipartisan effort, to extend the cap-and-trade carbon emissions program promoted by Governor Jerry Brown as a model not only for his state to tackle climate change, but as a beacon for the world to learn from and implement in their own states and countries.

“I’m not here about some cockamamie legacy that people talk about,” Brown said in a speech to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “This isn’t for me. It’s for you and it’s damn real.” Brown, a 79 year old career politician, has made climate change a main issue of his late years as Governor of California.

Despite his genuine efforts to take action on the most impending issue facing humankind, Brown’s cap-and-trade program falls short of making the revolutionary changes found in his rhetoric. However, the fact that the legislation stops short of facilitating the Green Energy Revolution will not obstruct Brown’s achievable goal of establishing the program as a model for the world to make deals with fossil fuel companies and keep the carbon emitters happy with a seat at the table. All while the science clearly shows we should be completely eradicating the industry and dramatically restructuring the way human life progresses towards the future with clean power and renewable energy.

Eight Republicans joined Democrats in a break with party leaders to support the extension of the climate change legislation, and it is no surprise that this is what made them hop on board with climate policy. But the cap-and-trade emissions program—a free market incentive plan that has fossil fuel companies and other carbon emitters buying and trading emission credits—fails to address the real root cause of these problems: a global economic system that is based upon exploitation of the planet’s resources.

By keeping incentive in the for-profit model of greenhouse gas emitters, Brown is prolonging the unavoidable and imminent shift to a sustainable, clean energy system of renewables to which the world must transition in order to survive and save the life we’re already destroying on our perfectly positioned and resource-gifted planet.

Even now, scientists conducting studies on the topic of animal population sizes are warning that we are entering an era of “biological annihilation” and mass extinction not unlike the inverse of the Ice Age, but with the exception that this period of warming is mainly being caused by human pollution, forest degradation, and the overall heating climate that is primarily the result of human carbon emissions.

While there is talk of limiting the amount of carbon and other harmful greenhouse gasses being pumped into our atmosphere from the fossil fuel industry and other corporations, the world has already permanently passed the crucial threshold of 400 parts per million according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the Mauna Loa Observatory—who are both monitoring carbon dioxide emissions—never again to return to the levels before 2016.

Already we’re seeing the consequences of this apocalyptic truth. Sea levels are rising, glaciers and ice sheets are melting, plant and animal ranges have shifted, and trees are even flowering sooner. People who live in the cities of Miami, San Francisco, and New York will have to migrate elsewhere. One of the largest icebergs ever recorded, a sheet of ice the size of Delaware, recently broken off Antarctica. Scientists are predicting droughts, storms, wildfires, disease; a planet the likes of which we have never seen.

The carbon dioxide warming the Earth has never been higher in recorded history, and yet even the most progressive state in the US regarding the issue responds with tepid solutions to appease the culprits who created this mess.

By putting the emphasis on this model of free market capping and trading instead of pursuing a total shift in the way we power our societies, Brown is reinstating fossil fuel companies’ position in the global economy through this unprecedented program, which he plans to export to the world while the people profiting off committing arson on the planet will continue to do so.

“This deal strikes that balance,” said Democratic Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León in a statement about the vote. “And shows once again California is more than ready to step up and lead where Washington will not.”

The “balance” de León is referring to can also be interpreted as an acquiescence to the demands of carbon polluters. For example, the Western State Petroleum Association was a key player in shaping the bill and it has been supported by many big business. Meanwhile, environmental groups are divided on the program; with the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council backing the legislation despite initial trepidation that it wouldn’t be tough enough on greenhouse gas emissions. But other groups like the California Environmental Justice Alliance and the Sierra Club are continuing to criticize the measures as too favorable to industry.

Parin Shah, senior strategist at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, was lackluster about the idea that one of the world leaders on climate issues is meeting carbon-emitting businesses halfway. “A bill like this in Oklahoma is a winner” he told The Los Angeles Times. “We would be popping the champagne corks. But this is California.”

And he has a point. If this is what Brown aims to propel California to world leader status on combating climate change, then this isn’t a good enough example of that leadership. Perhaps the most detrimental aspect of this seemingly good move to limit carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions is the fact that Brown plans to export this model to the world, and that he will have success doing so. The cap-and-trade policy is truly unique in the United States, and the whole world for that matter, but it is a step that is far too late in its attempts to regulate these poisons, but will surely be used by Brown’s global partners on the issue.

The most significant partner is China—the second biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world behind the US. The Governor immediately went to China after President Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and rightfully sees the smog-filled country as the most important partner in the fight against a warming world.

When he went to meet with the Chinese, Brown signed a nonbinding agreement with the most populated country on Earth to establish further cooperation on renewable energy, zero-emission automobiles, and low-carbon urban development. But Brown’s approach to corporate carbon emitters is the real shortcoming of his climate endeavors, and the corporate polluters are in fact the biggest contributors to the changing climate.

Last year, geographer Richard Heede’s research showed that nearly two-thirds of carbon emissions originated in just 90 companies and government run industries. Many of which are found in the two largest polluters, China and the United States, while others come from the Middle East, Russia, and other industrialized countries. Here’s the point: the unprecedented and supposedly revolutionary program of cap-and-trade will be practiced like Brown says it should and will, the rest of the world will follow suit in pursuing an inadequate appeasement to the greenhouse gas emitters and thus fail to make the dramatic changes the planet and the beings who live here need.

To change the course of humankind and provide a sustainable planet that is both healthy and prosperous for future generations of humanity, the free market doesn’t even have to suffer. Only certain businesses—mainly those polluting our air, killing our wildlife, and warming our planet—will lose profits while it is completely possible, and profitable, to transition to a world where the capital is not the God who guides us, a world where energy comes from sustainable sources, a world we treat well for all it has provided us.

Ryan Beitler is a journalist, fiction writer, poet, musician, and traveler. He has written for Paste Magazine, Addiction Now, OC Weekly, and his travel blog “Our Little Blue Rock.”: He can be reached at [email protected]

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