The West Coast Wonder: California’s Response to Global Warming

Seal_of_California.svg (1)California has always been at the forefront of progress and radical change. Maybe the weather keeps its citizens buzzing with open minds and open ideas or maybe it attracts higher thinkers but either way the Golden State is at it again. On January 1st, 2013 the state of California, in conjunction with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), announced that it will reduce carbon emissions back down to 1990 levels by the year 2020.  This announcement does not come lightly as it has been an uphill battle, legally and logistically for years, yet if it works it can set a precedent for the rest of America and its environmental future.

Global Warming Cap and Trade

California state government begins its undertaking by setting a specific emission cap for each company according to its size and carbon footprint. Each year the cap is reduced therefore gradually decreasing global warming CO2. The way it is easily embraced is that the program offers several choices for businesses to approach these mandates rather than succumb to one, immovable ruling. They can purchase at auction or from vendors (or in some cases obtain for free) carbon permits that add up to the cap. Energy efficiency and/or renewable power is then required for businesses to remain under that cap. If a company fails to reduce its CO2 output it can purchase more permits through a free-enterprise market to offset its unattained goal. On the other hand, companies that achieve their yearly cap reduction can sell any leftover permits it still holds. Environmental Economist Robert Stavins of Harvard University comments, “If it’s done right, it’s a cost effective way to reduce carbon emissions.”

It’s Been Done Before

Mr. Stavins may be referring to the same cap and trade program applied throughout the entire U.S. to successfully reduce sulfur dioxide emissions that caused acid rain in the 1990’s. Or, the nearly successful Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that the European Union (EU) implemented in 2005 that attempted emission regulation of power plants and large factories in 31 countries.  Although some tweaking is still being done, ETS has promise.   

Going Forward

All eyes are on California as this ninth biggest economy and the most populated state in the U.S. ventures forth. Taking lessons from both the sulfur dioxide success and the ETS pitfalls (overreaching and an unexpected recession created various speed bumps for the EU), California remains steadfast. It is even offering the additional choice for companies to offset their footprint by funding carbon reduction programs somewhere else. Even though this undertaking will only reduce about 1% of combined U.S. emissions, its mere attempt (hopefully triumphant at that) will be all our country needs to follow suit.

There is much work to be done on a logistic, infrastructure and even political scale when it comes to the global warming threat. Yet, just as America tackled everything from closing the ozone hole to maintaining a successful recycling program, California just may lead the way in solving the global warming crisis.


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