California’s Oil Problem Is An Opportunity for Real Climate Action

by Mary Sweeters

May 4, 2018

In the fight against climate change, Governor Jerry Brown could set a bold precedent for other leaders around the globe. We need a trailblazer in office — and the time for decisive action is now.

When you think of California, what comes to mind? For many, it’s sandy beaches that stretch into blue oceans, majestic redwood trees, and snow-capped mountains. As a native Californian, I care deeply about protecting these resources, about ensuring that all of our communities have clean air and water, and about doing all that we can to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

So, it may come as a shock to hear that despite its green image, California extracts more dirty oil and gas than most other states.

San Ardo Oil Field, Monterey County, CA. ©Loco Steve

Under Governor Jerry Brown, California has taken some important steps to tackle climate change. Through legislation, he committed the state to curb its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030; by that same year via an executive order, California will put five million electric vehicles on the road. These are good steps, but they’re not enough.

We still face two unavoidable realities:

  1. Climate science tells us very clearly that we need to do more to avoid the worst effects of global warming such as the wildfires, droughts, and mudslides we’re already experiencing.
  2. With its landscapes and seascapes marred by oil pumps, offshore platforms, refineries, and other dirty energy infrastructure, California has a major oil and gas problem.

Despite his good intentions and rhetoric, Governor Brown has continued to grant permits for new drilling and fracking, both onshore — sometimes right next to homes, schools and businesses — and in state waters.

California Governor Jerry Brown speaks at a National Press Club media event. ‘Brown’s Last Chance’ campaign groups at the same time are rallying outside the National Press Building to demand that Governor Jerry Brown freeze new fossil fuel extraction in California and devise a plan to phase it out completely.

This is a public health problem for communities that live in the shadow of fossil fuel infrastructure, which emits carbon and other pollutants during extraction, and locks us into years of emissions from burning fossil fuels. Any efforts to tackle climate change are undermined if we continue to pull oil and gas out of the ground and burn them. It simply doesn’t make sense to spend billions of dollars fighting climate change while we continue to drill for dirty fossil fuels.

But with California’s oil problem comes a great opportunity. This is the moment for Governor Brown to take bold action on climate change that could reach far beyond California and set a global precedent.

Governor Brown’s last year in office is marked by a notable event — the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September. Global leaders, corporations, and non-government organizations will converge to share their commitments to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change because with every passing day, the stakes get higher. The world is looking to elected officials – especially Governor Brown, who is regarded by many as a climate leader – to make meaningful commitments.  We know that if we want to have a fighting chance against the worst impacts of climate change, we absolutely must phase out fossil fuels.

That’s why Greenpeace is standing with over 750 organizations — including health, social justice, faith, labor, community, consumer, and environmental groups — from California, across the country, and from around the world, that sent Governor Brown a letter earlier this month calling on him to be a true climate leader. In this letter, we asked him to commit to two things: halting new permits for fossil fuel production and infrastructure development in California and to announce a phaseout of existing production in line with the Paris agreement’s climate goals.

‘Brown’s Last Chance’ campaign groups protest outside the National Press Building to demand that California Governor Jerry Brown freeze new fossil fuel extraction in California and devise a plan to phase it out completely, while the governor is speaking inside the building at a media event.

This phaseout must be a just and equitable transition that protects industry workers, communities, and economies, starting in places that are suffering most from the impacts of fossil fuel extraction. These are often low-income communities and communities of color that are also often the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.

The letter is just the start of a campaign that is centered around this opportunity for Governor Brown to be a catalyst for the kind of climate action that the situation demands.

It’s beyond time we listened to the science. If we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we have to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels. We need to keep them in the ground where they belong.

If Governor Brown wants to have a major impact on climate change, these coming months are his last chance. Our communities, our lands, and waters, and the future of the planet depend on it.

Want our leaders to take action now? Make sure Governor Brown hears from you. Tell him to put us on the path to real climate action by committing to stop new fossil fuel production in California.

Mary Sweeters

By Mary Sweeters

Mary Sweeters is a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace USA. She works to fight the undue influence of the oil industry in solidarity with communities affected by oil extraction, pollution, and climate change, and to advocate for a just transition to a clean energy economy. She is from Sonoma, California.

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