It is no secret that climate change, ecology, and the catastrophes they present are some of the most concerning issues facing Californians as we lurch towards an uncertain future. The popularity of a star-studded film such as Don’t Look Up and the frequent and sensational debates concerning the validity of the science behind climate change bear witness to this. In a speech delivered in July of 2022, even President Joe Biden declared that “Climate change is an existential threat.” At this time, President Biden stopped short of declaring a state of emergency, which would have triggered a national or perhaps international response to such an “existential threat.” However, in September of that year, a “heat dome” brought temperatures of up to 110 degrees to the, usually, cooler climates of the north-west United States. Those of us in Southern California are used to scorching Summers; our homes typically equipped with Air-Conditioning units and our routines typically prepared to be interrupted with excessive lounging in the shade or splashing in the pool. Some of our counterparts in the north, such as those in San Francisco are typically not blessed with such cooling technology, given that even in the summer, temperatures in that region tend not to get far above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
In these circumstances, temperatures reaching the triple digits are in fact what one might call a state of emergency. Exhaustion, dehydration, and heat stroke ensued during that fateful September. The futile whirring of hundreds of thousands of fans put unprecedented stress upon shoddy electrical grids, adding fuel to the acres of California land that simply burst into flames due to the heat. The summer of 2022 was a red one. Supposedly “once in a lifetime” and we have many more like it to look forward as the global temperature, slowly but surely, climbs to that critical 1.5 degrees Celsius mark.
As the new year rolls in, new laws have been passed, and it appears that California lawmakers are beginning to take the threat to our way of life in the golden state seriously. Ecology and environmental protection strategies are complex topics. Typically, it has been reduced to the issue of greenhouse gasses and their propensity to trap heat within our atmosphere and increase the global temperature. However, the emission of greenhouses from various sources is only one aspect of humanity’s terrible gift to mother nature. Historically, when it comes to taking responsibility for such processes, the consumer has taken the blame. We are asked to take responsibility for using too much water or for not recycling our goods, and so on. Two new laws passed in 2022 begin to shift the responsibility onto producers for the damage to the environment.
SB 54, or the “Plastics Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act,” takes aim at single-use plastic product and packaging producers. The goal is to make these companies more responsible for the end-of-life disposal of these products. Elizabeth Dorsi for the Los Angeles Daily Journal writes:
“These manufacturers are required to reduce plastic waste in two ways. First, they must reduce the weight of the plastic-component source for covered materials by 25%. This reduction will likely be accomplished by shrinking the size of plastic packaging or by moving to alternative recyclable and refillable materials. Second, single-use plastic packaging must be at least 30% recycled, reused, or composted by 2028, 40% by 2030, and 65% by 2032” (LA Daily Journal 1/4/23 Supplement; available in print in Riverside and Indio).
In 2021, only 5% of postconsumer plastic waste in the United States was recycled (LA Daily Journal 1/4/23 Supplement; available in print in Riverside and Indio). If such plastic were easier to recycle, by the two-pronged strategy of constructing said plastic out of already recycled plastic and reducing the amount of plastic that needs to be recycled in the first place, California can more effectively move towards its environmental goals.
The other major climate change law that was passed was AB 1279 or “The California Climate Crisis Act.” In 2006, California lawmakers passed the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which “tasked the Air Resources Board with achieving the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective GHG emission reductions to ensure statewide emissions are at least 40% below the 1990 level by 2030.” AB 1279 moves the goal post a bit by further decreasing GHG emissions by 2045, but also requiring implementation of, “carbon capture and removal technologies to move California toward net negative, not merely net zero, GHG emissions as soon as possible.” The goal is to make California not merely neutral in the game of GHG emissions, but to turn the state into a “GHG absorber.”
While these laws, at the least, show that California lawmakers have climate change on their minds, it is important to keep in mind the global nature of the threats that climate change pose. It would be inaccurate to say that the aforementioned heatwave that affected Californians was simply a result of the industrial practices that take place in California. As climate disasters become more acute global measures at reducing pollution and so on must be a global effort, and the measures taken by one region, no matter how drastic they are, cannot cover over this necessity.
LA Daily Journal “New California Laws 2023” January 4, 2023 supplement (available in print in Riverside and Indio)
Written by: Yanis Azzou, Library Assistant