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Guest essay: California needs a climate courage budget

Mary Creasman is the CEO of California Environmental Voters. Formerly the California League of Conservation Voters, EnviroVoters is a nonprofit that works to organize voters, elect and train candidates, and hold lawmakers accountable for bold policy change to solve the climate crisis, advance justice, and create a roadmap for global action.

Two years of public health crisis revealed California can take big, powerful action when lives are at stake. When our leaders implemented some of the nation’s boldest virus-fighting policies, we embraced them.

After celebrating Earth Day last week, the question facing Californians is whether we demand our leaders step up with the same determination to unleash California’s best against the climate crisis. Our children’s future hangs in the balance.

It’s appropriate that the theme of Earth Day this year is Invest in Our Planet because only a massive investment in climate solutions can overcome the massive threats of wildfires, drought, extreme heat, and pollution. That’s why many community organizations have united in a campaign urging Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to think big and double the proposed budget surplus investment in a Climate Courage Budget. This would commit at least five percent of state spending over five years – or roughly $75 billion.

It was exciting to see Governor Newsom propose an unprecedented $37.6 billion climate investment. Unfortunately this debate isn’t about spending more than before. California must spend what it takes on large infrastructure projects to win this fight before time runs out. Scientists tell us this decade is our last chance to make big changes in our energy, transportation, and other major infrastructure to prevent an irreversible climate catastrophe, which is why California’s leaders must double the governor’s original proposal.

This year’s budget is our best chance to invest in solutions at the scale required to stabilize our environment. We have the know-how. Our budget surplus can provide the resources to unleash it. Californians just need leaders with the climate courage to act aggressively.

By investing our surplus in climate solutions at scale over the next five years, the Climate Courage Budget plan can seize opportunities to correct economic and environmental injustices, grow markets and create jobs by powering our economy on affordable clean energy, and preserve a safe, healthy future for all Californians.

Scale is the operative word.

Transportation is the largest source of pollution in California fueling extreme heat, wildfires and drought. While Gov. Newsom proposed $6.1 billion to expand zero-emission vehicle ownership, our plan includes $16.4 billion so all Californians, especially those most impacted by vehicle pollution, can propel change.

Clean energy growth has also slowed. Thus Gov. Newsom proposed $2 billion to accelerate it, but it’s not enough. Powering California on clean energy requires grid upgrades to store and deliver clean energy from more solar and wind generation. This is the tipping point for a clean energy takeover, and our campaign plan includes $9.7 billion to get it done.

Gov. Newsom proposed $922 million for a low-income building retrofit program to reduce pollution and lift up disadvantaged communities. Our campaign plan includes an additional $600 million to power homes for low-income Californians on electricity instead of natural gas and $300 million more for the Governor’s retrofit proposal.

Abandoning fossil fuels should also require an intentional and well-funded transition for impacted workers and communities. Gov. Newsom proposed $435 million, but our campaign plan includes an additional $17.7 billion to ensure all affected workers prosper in a green economy.

We cannot afford to squander this opportunity. Better is not good enough. Later is too late. Insufficient or delayed action dooms California to climate extremes that will only get more intense, frequent, and destructive. This stark reality awaits action from lawmakers who haven’t passed significant climate legislation in years. If they don’t stand up to the corporate polluters and Big Oil executives profiting from the climate crisis, Californians will suffer more and needlessly.

Another future is possible. Californians need our Governor, Senate and Assembly leaders to summon the climate courage needed to save our state.

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