Students from different Oakland high schools take part in a climate strike march along Market Street in San Francisco Sept. 20, 2019. Marchers in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world demanded action on climate change. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group File Photo.)
If COVID-19 taught us anything this year, it’s how badly things can go if we ignore science, don’t take precautions and don’t protect the most vulnerable among us. As we work to recover from the pandemic, we can’t forget another looming crisis: climate change. For years, science told us it’s coming. We’re already seeing the impacts. 2020 wasn’t a terrible year just because of COVID-19. We were hammered by more fires and extreme heat than we’ve ever seen because our climate is changing.
The rest of the country looks to California for climate leadership, even as we struggle to reach our 2030 climate goals. The good news is we can continue to lead in California. To do this, we must be both strategic and bold to address the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in our state: More than 60% comes from buildings, electricity generation and transportation.
As a newly elected state senator, I’m excited to get to work. Here are some ideas:
Fourteen years ago, California set a goal of 1 million solar roofs, a milestone reached in 2018. I propose making it possible for us to soon have at least 1 million electric buildings to more deeply slash our use of fossil fuels and the emissions they produce. To do so we must create electric-ready homes and other buildings by lowering barriers that make it hard to switch to electric models when major appliances and equipment — like a home’s furnace or water heater — need replacing. This will speed our transition from natural gas.
To further drive our grid toward 100% clean energy, we should establish a 24/7 Clean Energy Standard that spurs companies to invest in diverse clean energy sources, energy storage and flexible loads so clean energy can be delivered whenever we need it, not just when the sun shines or the wind blows.
To speed our switch to cleaner cars, we can help people, especially those with lower incomes, buy low-emission cars and retire the oldest, dirtiest ones.
Our state government must lead the way. We should set a net zero target for state government operations by 2035 and ensure our state uses its buying power to expand markets for electric vehicles, electric heating, and lower-carbon concrete, steel and other commodities.
A key theme of my campaign was “Prioritize Climate Now.” Climate change won’t stop on its own any more than COVID-19 has. Battling the crisis will be hard work, but to emerge from the coronavirus recession, work is exactly what we need. We can put people to work building wind and solar farms, a resilient grid, energy storage systems, electric HVAC systems and water heaters, and so much more. We need people building new electric homes, retrofitting buildings to install electric appliances, and making all buildings more energy efficient. The group Rewiring America estimates that building a cleaner future will create 25 million net new jobs nationwide at the peak of this transition, with 5 million of those jobs sustained long term. A serious climate program can be seriously good for putting people back to work.
The best news is when we get there — when we’ve switched from burning dirty stuff we dug out of the ground to using clean, renewable energy — our quality of life and the environment sustaining us will be so much better than today. We’ll have stopped fueling climate change, we’ll breathe cleaner air and save money on energy costs. Electric cars are already cheaper to drive than gas-powered cars, and electric heating is far more energy-efficient than gas furnaces. Neither pollute our air when powered by clean electricity. What are we waiting for? Let’s go.
Josh Becker represents the 13th District in the California Senate.