Sustainability Still Wins Elections

Sometimes, the voters get it right. For sustainability advocates, desperate to find something positive in this week's election, here's one: Proposition 23, the California voter initiative to undo America's most aggressive climate program, was soundly, roundly defeated.

It wasn't even close: More than 60 percent of California voters chose to stay the course on California's nation-leading green-economy march. The opponents of climate action didn't just lose, they were trounced.

Prop. 23, for the uninitiated, aimed to reverse California's sweeping greenhouse gas legislation, known as AB32, signed into law in 2006 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. AB32 requires a reduction in state greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The law will engage a broad-based effort by just about every business entity in the state, along with government at all levels -- and, of course, individuals in their roles as shoppers, drivers, and homeowners -- in dramatically reducing California's climate impacts.

Reaching the law's mandates involves a low-carbon fuel standard for vehicle fuels as well as regulations for tires, engine oils, paints, window glazes, and vehicle insurance. It involves new regulations that affect housing, trucking, refrigerated vehicles, cargo vessels, rail freight, chemicals, and many other parts of the economy. It is, simply put, the most comprehensive climate legislation enacted, at least in the U.S.

Which is why some big companies hated it. Fossil fuel companies in particular. Valero and Tesoro, two Texas oil companies, provided the majority of funding in support of Prop. 23. The proponents took the stance that California simply couldn't afford to address climate change during a recession, with state unemployment at more than 12 percent. Proposition 23, had it passed, would have mandated that AB32 efforts be back-burnered until the economy greatly improved -- until such a time that unemployment hit 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. That is to say, until never.

Proposition 23 was significant for one principal reason: It was the first time that action on climate change had been put to the voters.

And the voters spoke, resoundingly: Californians overwhelming agreed that this is no time to stop California's leadership on energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean technology, and greenhouse gas reductions.