WASHINGTON—California’s efforts to clean the air and environment provide valuable examples to the rest of the nation as it wrestles with addressing climate change, UCLA Law School professor-in-residence Mary D. Nichols said today.
Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, spoke at the second day of a Washington summit aimed at gathering information for an examination of climate change. Called America’s Climate Choices, it’s a $5.9 million effort to provide Congress with information and advice. The Committee and its four panels will present a report in 2010 with findings, conclusions and recommendations.
Although California has passed clean air rules and recently a plan to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming, it has required great collaboration between disparate groups, Nichols said.
"As I think about what needs to happen at the federal level" with cooperation between various agencies, Nichols said, "this is something that is going to require an enormous effort unlike anything possible outside of a war effort that has ever been done. I hate to use those kind of analogies but it’s going to require some pretty heroic changes."
Nichols is on one of four panels of experts that are part of the examination effort by the National Academies. UCLA Chancellor Emeritus Albert Carnesale chairs the effort and also sits on the oversight committee.
As the panelists work, Nichols said, she wants them to consider the role, experiences and needs of the states.
"I want to share some of our experiences we’ve had putting together the California climate program and also to raise some of the concerns that we’ve come to understand about some of the difficulties with proposals that sound simple when you say them but really can be difficult to put into practice," Nichols said.
Nichols kicked off a day of talks from speakers providing information to members of the committee and the panels. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, talked about the cost of inaction, including potential losses along the south Florida and North Carolina coastlines because of rising waters.
"To me, getting started, as aggressively as we can, is the most important thing," Claussen said. At the same time, she said, America and other developed nations must find a way to deal with coal.
"Regardless of how you feel about coal, we and other countries are going to continue to burn it," Claussen said. "Unless we can move the coal burning countries to figure out how to burn coal in a way that doesn’t harm the climate, nothing else we will do will matter."
Other speakers addressed the effect of climate change on vulnerable species, how climate change will increase the incidence of certain diseases, national security threats, and the options for shaping a carbon tax or price on carbon emissions.
Nichols detailed the experience of California in enacting measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change. That commitment came, she said, as a result of academics and interest groups educating people about the impact of global warming on "California itself and some of the resources many people hold dear," Nichols said.
The specter of the loss of Sierra Nevada snowpack and flooding in San Francisco and the area between there and the Sierra Mountains, "really did have an impact on people’s thinking about the problem."
At the same time, she said, as the state discusses a program to charge for carbon dioxide emissions, there is an expectation of lawsuits from businesses. Those businesses likely would argue that putting a cap on carbon emissions equals a tax, which required a 2/3 vote of the state legislature.