Sunday, May 27


Proposition 23 "suspends implementation of air pollution control law (AB 32) requiring major sources of emissions to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent or less for full year."

Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Studies

Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Studies

/ Daily Bruin

Professor of Economics

Professor of Urban Planning

Assistant professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Studies


This November, Californian voters will have a rare opportunity to influence contemporary history about one of the most pressing dangers and challenges of our time: climate change.

In the last several decades, the earth has been warming rapidly, and that emissions of man-made greenhouse gases are the primary cause is no longer disputed in the scientific community.

Currently, emissions of greenhouse gases are still accelerating from year to year with no outlook of stabilization or even reversal since the biggest emitters, China and the U.S., are not even part of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We are thus heading straight into a situation where dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system can no longer be prevented.

Scientific uncertainty does exist in regards to quantifying accurately the degree to which human actions have contributed to the recent warming trend plus in projections of future climate change.

What is surprising is the degree to which the broader public in the U.S. is skeptical to the notion of a human influence on global warming.

This is in stark contrast to most of the European countries where the public’s views are generally much more aligned with the scientific view.

It does seem that the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to opinions distributed by a handful of climate skeptics.

Why is this discrepancy between scientific and public view important? Well, for one, the scientists are only a tiny minority, and their votes would have little bearing.

But what is even more important is the recognition that tackling a challenge like climate change must be addressed at all levels in society (government, state, municipal, individual) with broad public support.

Proposition 23 is intending to put AB 32, a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases in California, on hold until unemployment has reached stable levels at around 5 percent. The logic here is that forcing industries to reduce greenhouse gases puts a further strain on the already stressed economy.

The big question is if this logic is really true.

A look at experiences from other countries suggests no. For example, Germany also has a strong commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, like California, also tries to achieve this by increasing the fraction of cleaner energy form renewable sources (wind, solar).

Currently, Germany’s economy is booming (3.4 percent growth in 2010), and this is in part due to growth in the clean energy sector (renewables and energy efficiency). Since the German government has started subsidizing the clean tech sector in 2000, over 200,000 new jobs have been created.

So the push toward cleaner energy has actually created jobs, something which is highly valued in a country with chronic high unemployment. In addition, the Germans are also very pleased with the fact that, little by little, their energy dependence on foreign fossil fuels is diminishing.

A number of Californian industries have already greatly benefited from investment in the clean energy sector as a result of AB 32.

Putting AB 32 on hold before it is actually implemented (as planned in 2012) would be a huge step back for the state of California and would also send the wrong message to the rest of the country and the world.


Proposition 23, if enacted by voters, will freeze the provisions of AB 32 until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or below for four consecutive quarters.

AB 32 is the code name for California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. This law requires that by 2020, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels, a roughly 25 percent reduction from current estimates. The California Air Resources Board has the regulatory authority to prepare the plans to achieve this emissions reduction goal.

As a free market environmentalist, I strongly hope that Proposition 23 will fail. International and domestic efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions have failed.

The U.S Senate refused to vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Our refusal to enact a credible incentive to decarbonize the economy means that world population and per capita income growth will only increase greenhouse gas emissions.

This will further exacerbate the coming challenge of climate change.

While the rest of the United States and most of the rest of the world have been unwilling to take credible steps toward capping their emissions, California has been willing to shoulder this leadership role. Are we a “hero” or are we a “sucker?” Shouldn’t we simply free ride like everyone else? I don’t think so.

I moved to California three years ago because I wanted to live and work in a progressive, cutting-edge state. During this time of deep recession, California is trying to figure out how our economy will “get its groove back.”

While there is a lot of hype around the “green economy,” I do believe that the synergies between our leading universities, the venture capital money and our state’s progressive ideology, combined with clear government incentives and signals (provided by AB 32), help to give California an edge in the nascent green economy.

In many of his past movies, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger starred as a man willing to take risks to protect his loved ones and to do what was right. In this spirit, AB 32 represents an opportunity for the state to target its entrepreneurial energies and to pursue a key environmental goal. This “double bottom line” is quite attractive.

As AB 32 is implemented, California will be a guinea pig for the whole world. California’s firms and researchers will experiment and tinker and learn as we individually attempt to reduce our carbon footprint. Some ideas will succeed and others will fail but the knowledge generated will be crucial for helping the world economy to decarbonize.

AB 32 is not a “free lunch” for our state, but its implementation costs have been exaggerated by supporters of Proposition 23. In the medium term, AB 32 will help our state to simultaneously reinvent our economy and to help achieve global sustainability goals.


A yes vote on Proposition 23 will have the effect of putting AB 32 on hold for the foreseeable future. AB 32 continues California’s several decades-long tradition of leading air pollution policy under the Federal Clean Air Act.

California is the only state with special status to set its own clean air policies for vehicles, and it has used it to produce stunning improvements in air quality. AB 32 establishes California as a leader in the area of clean renewable energy and alternatives to fossil fuels.

Technologies associated with renewable energy and energy conservation offer potential to curb climate change, decrease dependence on foreign oil and lower energy bills inside and outside the home.

Renewables will continue to grow, and delaying the implementation of AB 32, possibly for a decade or more by passing Proposition 23, will decrease California’s competitiveness in this critical growth area.

Saying no to Proposition 23 will allow AB 32 to be implemented as intended when it was voted into law with strong Republican and Democratic support.

AB 32 will lead to growth in green jobs for students from North and South Campus alike.

It will provide a path to continue cleaning up our air. Without it, we have few tools left to make further improvements in air quality.

AB 32 provides much-needed leadership to address the emissions that lead to climate change in the U.S. This has far-reaching implications in a world where other nations are watching and waiting for the U.S. to step up.

Curbing climate change is the grand challenge of the current generation, and a vote of no on Proposition 23 is a small step to meeting that challenge.


All public policies have costs and benefits.

Advocates of either side tend to focus on best making their case and ignoring the other. That’s politics as a shell game.

The second key issue here is the accuracy of the calculations of either costs or benefits. That’s science.

In this case, opponents of the state’s climate change legislation are attempting to equate it simplistically to number of jobs lost (costs), as though it makes no progress toward saving the planet (benefits).

To be fair, supporters of AB 32 also tend to downplay possible economic costs. There are even arguments that “green” technologies, industries and regulations can do both ““ save the planet and jobs ““ but these remain largely speculative.

The more honest position is to recognize that there are both costs and benefits and then compare them (and here on campus try to lower the former and increase the latter).

We could take Proposition 23 supporters more seriously if they acknowledged (a) the threat to the economy of not addressing climate change or (b) the benefits of doing so. They do neither.

Plus, their campaign is financed by groups with a disproportionate interest in avoiding the costs of climate change regulation and a historic disinterest in the science of climate change.

Secondly, as I said, there is the science of the calculations.

Some studies strongly suggest that the economic costs of AB 32 have been grossly exaggerated in the studies cited by Proposition 23 supporters.

I guess this too is politics ““ where ignoring the benefits of AB 32 in order to draw everyone’s attention to its costs is a shell game, which might be considered fair game.

Purposefully misrepresenting those costs and benefits over and over, on the other hand, is closer to malfeasance.

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