California’s Climate Extremism

  • Date: 04/07/18
  • Joel Kotkin, City Journal

The pursuit of environmental purity in the Golden State does nothing to reverse global warming—but it’s costing the poor and middle class dearly.

Environmental extremism increasingly dominates California. The state is making a concerted attack on energy companies in the courts; a bill is pending in the legislature to fine waiters $1,000—or jail them—if they offer people plastic straws; and UCLA issued a report describing pets as a climate threat. The state has taken upon itself the mission of limiting the flatulence of cows and other farm animals. As the self-described capital of the anti-Trump resistance, California presents itself as the herald of a green, more socially and racially just society. That view has been utterly devastated by a new report from Chapman University, in which coauthors David Friedman and Jennifer Hernandez demonstrate that California’s draconian anti-climate-change regime has exacerbated economic, geographic, and racial inequality. And to make things worse, California’s efforts to save the planet have actually done little more than divert greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG) to other states and countries.

Jerry Brown’s return to Sacramento in 2011 brought back to power one of the first American politicians to embrace the “limits of growth.” Brown has long worried about resource depletion (including such debunked notions as “peak oil”), taken a Malthusian approach to population growth, and opposed middle-class suburban development. Like many climate-change activists, he has limitless confidence in the possibility for engineering a green socially just society through “the coercive power of the state,” but little faith that humans can find ways to address the challenge of  climate change. If Brown’s “era of limits” message in the 1970s failed to catch on with the state’s voters, who promptly elected two Republican governors in his wake, he has found in climate change a more effective rallying cry, albeit one that often teeters at the edge of hysteria. Few politicians can outdo Brown for alarmism; recently, he predicted that climate change will cause 3 to 4 billion deaths, leading eventually to human extinction. To save the planet, he openly endorses a campaign to brainwash the masses.

The result: relentless ratcheting-up of climate-change policies. In 2016, the state committed to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. In response, the California Air Resource Board (CARB), tasked with making the rules required to achieve the state’s legislated goals, took the opportunity to set policies for an (unlegislated) target of an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. […]

The groups most affected by these policies, ironically, are those on whom the ruling progressives rely for electoral majorities. Millennials have seen a more rapid decline in homeownership rates compared with their cohort elsewhere. But the biggest declines have been among historically disadvantaged minorities—Latinos and African-Americans. Latino homeownership rates in California are well below the national average. In 2016, only 31 percent of African-Americans in the Bay Area owned homes, well below the already low rate of 41 percent black homeownership in the rest of nation. Worse yet, the state takes no account of the impact of these policies on poorer Californians. Overall poverty rates in California declined in the decade before 2007, but the state’s poverty numbers have risen during the current boom. Today, 8 million Californians live in poverty, including 2 million children, by far the most of any state. The state’s largest city, Los Angeles, is also now by some measurements America’s poorest big city.

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