Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Gold to Green?

California is famously "the golden state" because of, well, gold in 1849. This kicked off a boom in mining, growth, development, agriculture, and settlement in a wild west that operated under a loose legal status. It was a place of new beginnings and great opportunities for wealth. This legacy of resource consumption drove tremendous increases in population, and sparked the Intercontinental Railway project that connected Sacramento to Omaha and five additional lines that were completed by 1893. California became legendary for its growth and development, and ultimately in the postwar period it became known for its missile and rocket production, aerospace industry and the developed technology for the atomic bomb. The subsequent explosion of babies, homes, cars and highways is legendary.

Yet California has always had a strong environmental streak and an affinity for wilderness preservation, as Kevin Starr points out in his sixth book of his "California Dream" series - "Golden Dreams, California in an Age of Abundance 1950 - 1963". Under Governor Pat Brown in the 1960's, a resistance to the massive growth pushing California into the position of the largest state in the union was already taking shape. The Sierra Club, led by David Brower, emerged as a leading force in the state's environmental movement.

Today, the issue has come full circle. California has reasserted its commitment to ecological sanity and sustainable habitation even as the population strains the resources of the State Water projects and saturates the highways, railways and transit lines with commuters and cargo. Urban and suburban development has sprawled across the state and created immense pollution and heat island sinks, adversely impacting the land, the water and the air.The statewide vote to retain its environmental regulations in this past November's election has unleashed some long-planned initiatives to turn around a state that's no longer golden and is on the brink of fiscal and infrastructure collapse.

The Governor has seized the opportunity to take the lead on global climate action by using the third Governors' Global Climate summit to introduce global leadership through the R20, a nonprofit incorporated in Geneva. This organization is a coalition of governments that plan to take leadership positions to expand the global green economy, create new green jobs and build commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Governor has issued a position paper on this commitment.

California is creating alliances with other governments and countries in order to accommodate global initiatives which will be discussed with recommendations, starting at the COP 16 meeting in Cancun, Mexico next month.The R20, while outside the United Nations framework, will maintain a close working relationship with the United Nations and play a complementary role. The Governors' Global Climate summit is being held in partnership with the UN Development Programme and the UN Environment Programme.

The hope is that science and economics will provide a synergism that will rapidly push innovation, business and production into a new direction of clean technologies and businesses in order to address the climate change that is upon us now. Lacking leadership in Washington, DC, California has decided to go for leadership in the greater environmental sphere, largely in the hope that the state can redress its increasingly out of balance political and fiscal structure while it rebuilds the promise of its postwar legacy.

It's a historic moment, as California reaches for the green.