This guest post was written by Vanessa Bulkacz:
Late last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the Decarbonizing California conference organized by Climate Resolve. The day’s discussions centered around how California can continue to lead the way on combating climate change as we approach the middle of the 21st century. It was a one of those amazingly clear days in Los Angeles when you could see all the mountain ranges, free of pollution, providing a stunning reminder of what we are fighting to protect.
The conference highlighted all the progress we have made in our state to address the climate crisis and clean up our air. But we still have a long road ahead of us. In Los Angeles, our public transportation system serves only a fraction of the population, with the vast majority of residents still stuck in their cars in gridlock. The worst air pollution, often next to freeways, is overwhelmingly located in lower income neighborhoods. We are facing an asthma epidemic in California with one in ten children now suffering from this potentially debilitating disease – and one of these children is my son.
Conference speakers started by recounting how California’s groundbreaking actions to fight air pollution and climate change are setting national and global examples. Gary Gero of Climate Action Reserve noted that federal adoption of California’s vehicle emission standards will be the backbone of the new climate agreement President Obama just made with China. Cars in California are 99% more efficient now than they were in 1970. All new buildings in California under four stories must be net zero energy by 2020. Prop 39 funds for energy efficiency upgrades in schools will help us start to address the financial hurdle to kicking our coal habit, which is unhealthy for both climate and people.
But it’s the carbon market set up under California’s most ambitious climate policy, AB-32, which has made the biggest waves. It started a very successful cap and trade program, which went into effect in 2013. Learning from the mistakes made by the EU and their problem-laden Emissions Trading System, California legislators, environmental groups and grassroots activists crafted AB-32 to be a more efficient, revenue generating carbon market. California’s scheme is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues in 2015 – with all proceeds going towards climate friendly projects in the state. One quarter of these revenues are designated for projects in California’s most disadvantaged communities. Some of these funds will go towards enabling adoption of groundbreaking new technologies, such as engineered photosynthesis as a future energy source.
It was great to hear about the progress we have made and the exciting new technologies now coming to fruition, even though it’s clear that there are many challenges ahead. I’m thankful for all the days my kids get to breathe healthy air in our beautiful state, while hoping it becomes the norm really soon. The meeting, with some of southern California’s top climate and clean energy leaders, as well as our most passionate activists, left me hopeful that we’re working towards such a future for my two sons and all California’s children.
Vanessa Bulkacz is a California native who has worked in environmental planning, communications and journalism with expertise in climate change and biodiversity. Vanessa recently returned to Los Angeles, where she went to high school, after living and working in Europe for more than 11 years. She has written articles that have been published in both print and online media in multiple countries including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the USA. Vanessa has twin pre-school aged boys who were born in Belgium, where she able to work thanks to her British-American dual nationality. Vanessa is passionate about fighting for clean air and against climate change, bicycle planning, environmental justice and getting little boys to bed on time.