Why global warming should concern us all, Central Valley folk in particular

Why global warming should concern us all, Central Valley folk in particular

The Bakersfield Californian, February 22, 2010

As a concerned citizen, I always favor a healthy debate, but not a steady stream of tactical distractions that are designed to hide the truth, obscure the facts and divert attention away from the real issues. Unfortunately, that's what's happening in the debate about energy and global warming.

The fact is that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and every major scientific organization in America, has studied decades of data and concluded our climate is changing due to man-made pollution. Some who never accepted this evidence now point to a few lines from the hacked e-mails of two British scientists to make their case. But, according to the Associated Press, the emails at the center of the so-called climate-gate scandal "don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions."

It is time for us to stop getting distracted by climate change deniers and start focusing our full attention on the important work of getting our economy back on track, improving our national security and restoring our air quality. Any energy and global warming solution must address three main issues: energy independence, job creation and limiting greenhouse gas pollution.

* High-value crops produced in Kern County, including almonds, citrus and grapes, will be most vulnerable to climate change because it takes a long time for those crops to mature, and they need predictable amounts of water. Climate change throws predictability out the window and with it could go billions of dollars of production.

* The working group of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley concluded that it would take the following steps, among others, for the struggling Central Valley economy to become robust: Align region-wide economic development efforts in support of target industries: (1) agribusiness, including food processing, agricultural technology, and biotechnology; (2) manufacturing; (3) supply chain management and logistics; (4) health and medical care; (5) renewable energy; and (6) accelerate the adoption of renewable and clean energy in the San Joaquin Valley.

* Kern County has ample sun to take advantage of solar energy. The state's first utility scale solar farm broke ground in nearby Fresno County in August. Why can't Kern become a hub for solar manufacturing? The local economy must transition away from dependence on oil because oil is drying up. That's why even Chevron Oil has joined in support of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, which is dedicated to creating a clean energy future in the region and creating green jobs at the same time.

* An economist at Cal State Fullerton, Jane Hall, estimates that the San Joaquin Valley spends about $22 billion in health care, lost days at work, lost days at school, and lost lives because of air pollution. Climate change will likely lead to more hot days and more smoggy days in the San Joaquin Valley. It means more sick kids, more days when workers won't be able to work outside and another huge drain on the region's struggling economy.

To achieve these goals will require smart legislation crafted with careful consideration of both economic and environmental impacts. Thankfully, stakeholders across the policy and political spectrum, including energy companies and environmental organizations, have come together to create a climate bill that includes a limit on carbon pollution and provides benefits for businesses, consumers, and agriculture.

Some with a vested interest in the way America currently buys and uses energy claim that solving climate change will limit our freedoms. Actually, it is just the opposite. The new energy bill allows for American businesses to decide how to keep their pollution in check. Instead of a top-down approach, such as a carbon tax or strict government regulation, the climate bill offers a bottom-up solution. With a market-based limit on carbon pollution, each factory and business can decide for itself how to limit its net carbon emissions.

The cap on carbon will create jobs by driving investment in clean energy technologies. Manufacturing solar panels and transforming local oil fields into an array of solar modules is hard work and demands a strong work force. The climate bill also creates real economic opportunity for farmers. Under the new climate legislation, farmers will be paid for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through methods including carbon sequestration, wetland conservation and methane capture. We need a climate and clean energy bill to boost our economy, create jobs, improve our national security and our air quality, and help us beat China and Europe in the race to create a global clean energy economy. Let's get it done.

Eric Holst is managing director of the Center for Conservation Incentives for Environmental Defense Fund. EDF received the California Rice Commission's "Circle of Life Award" in 2008 for partnering with California rice farmers to find solutions to global warming.