Climate change is considered by many to be the most serious existential threat facing humankind in 2021—even when compared to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Climate Reality Project—founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Vice President Al Gore—climate change is the consequence of global warming, “and includes everything from the increasing incidence of extreme weather events like powerful hurricanes and severe drought to more frequent flooding and longer-lasting heat waves. It’s the accelerated ice melt we’re seeing in Greenland, Antarctica, and the Arctic and the related rise in global sea levels rise. It’s worsening pollen seasons, spreading vector-borne diseases, and much, much more.”
Given the abundance of natural disasters that befall California regularly, we residents have become all too familiar with the life-threatening challenges associated with global warming.
In that vein, local Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia—who represents District 56 and currently chairs the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife—joined Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco) to introduce Assembly Bill 1500, also known as the Safe Drinking Water, Wildfire Prevention, Drought Preparation, Flood Protection, Extreme Heat Mitigation and Workforce Development Bond Act of 2022.
“The impacts of climate change to our state and our communities require us to act quickly,” Mullin said in a press release. “California needs to protect itself against future climate disasters, and rebuild our workforce from an ongoing pandemic that has only inflicted additional pain and suffering. … AB 1500 seeks to make California more climate resilient by investing $6.7 billion in various adaptation activities throughout the state.”
Garcia said in the same news release: “The passage of a climate resilience bond must be the next step in California’s climate leadership. A crisis of this magnitude requires urgent action and historic investments to protect our communities from the devastating public health, safety and economic impacts of climate change. We can achieve our climate-action goals as part of a robust economic strategy. By making serious, targeted investments now, California has the opportunity to mitigate climate impacts, improve disaster response, and prevent future catastrophes while uplifting underserved, environmentally vulnerable areas and creating new jobs where they are needed the most.”
During a recent interview, the Independent asked Garcia if this bill—which, if passed as currently written, would place a ballot proposition in front of voters in November 2022—could truly be considered “urgent action.”
“It’s important to say that the state isn’t sitting on its hands until this bond is passed,” Garcia said. “There are funding streams—unfortunately, not of large magnitude—that are addressing many of these issues on a smaller scale. What we’re trying to create is a large funding source to align with existing resources (related to) programs that we’re trying to enhance and take a bigger swipe at. That includes (confronting) issues like carbon sequestration, emission reduction, and moving water to and from locations, as well as addressing issues of clean and safe drinking water.
“Now, the opportunity we have with this bond is to meet the objectives that the bond sets forward, but also to create some economic-recovery impacts in certain parts of the state that are being disproportionately hit by climate-change issues. For me, I want to secure another $240 million for the Salton Sea, so that we can move on to the next phases of the management plan, which just began its construction (phase) in January. In Riverside County, that includes the North Lake project, and in Imperial County, the Desert Shores/West Shores community (project), that would help fill up some of those water channels as proposed by residents who live in and around that area.
“It’s important to move $15 million into additional New River cleanup phases that could potentially bring more-permanent solutions in the case of raw-sewage spillages south of the border—and, by the way … Mexico is upgrading their infrastructure to avoid those situations. They’ve put $20 million into the planning, and the money is now secured for improvements over there. And that complements the $28 million that we’ve been able to secure from both the general fund and Prop 68 funds. So, to answer your question, we’re not waiting until a bond is approved in 2022 to address many of these issues.”
Released in 2018, California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment predicted that by roughly 2050, the economic cost to California of recovering from the disastrous impacts of climate change will exceed $100 billion annually, if no mitigation efforts are made in the interim. But is a bond seeking $6.7 billion in total funding going to provide enough of a war chest?
“For some people, it will always be too little and never enough. For others, it will always be too much,” Garcia said. “There are some political experts following our work, and doing polling and surveys throughout the state of California—and it seems people are willing to support the bond (at a cost of) between $7 billion and $10 billion if that money is going to fight wildfires, and for (a variety of) remediation and prevention programs, like addressing the threat to coastal communities posed by rising sea levels, or the droughts that threaten access for many communities to safe, clean drinking-water supplies. Those are things that motivate voters to go a bit higher because of the urgency.”
A New York Times poll, published last October, showed that 66 percent of Americans favored a $2 trillion climate-action proposal by President Joe Biden during his campaign, while only 26 percent opposed it.
While the bond proposed by AB 1500 would stand a decent chance at the polls, why won’t it be put in front of voters until November 2022—meaning funds would not be available until 2023?
“The time we have won’t just allow us to pass the piece of legislation in both the Assembly and the Senate, and get it signed by the governor, (in time for earlier action),” Garcia said. “But it also gives us ample time to ramp up a political campaign, because at the end of the day, you still have to convince voters throughout the state that this investment, and the borrowing of the money, is worth the effort. … We still haven’t decided whether it would appear on the June 2022 or November 2022 ballot, even though the language now says November 2022, but it gives all of us stakeholders from across the state some time to develop a political and fundraising strategy in order to get a campaign message across.”