By Toni G. Atkins
During the past several years, California has been hit especially hard by extreme weather events, from our historic five-year drought, to floods, record heat, and, most recently, devastating wildfires. Last year’s fires were among the deadliest on record, and this year we saw the largest fire in state history, the Mendocino-Complex. Thousands of firefighters are still battling more than a dozen blazes across the state.
It’s impossible to ignore the connection between these historically intense natural disasters and the unnatural climatic changes behind them. Scientists are increasingly certain that it’s no coincidence, and they’ve been warning us for years that we’re likely to experience even worse disasters unless we get serious about climate change.
Fortunately, California has taken these threats to heart. We’ve long been a leader in clean energy, energy efficiency, and pollution reduction. September brought a few important milestones for California’s climate leadership.
Gov. Jerry Brown played host to the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, bringing together public- and private-sector leaders from around the world to step up our commitment to climate action. Senate Democrats were center stage after passing some of the strongest clean energy and climate policies in the nation – and the world – including making California the first major economy on the planet to commit to 100 percent clean energy by 2045.
Despite the recent climate-related chaos we’ve experienced here and across the nation – and the increasingly dire warnings from scientists at the Summit – it was hard not to feel hopeful about the future surrounded by so many innovative thinkers and leaders. Among the many brilliant speakers and important perspectives represented at the summit, a couple stood out to me as particularly important.
Richard Trumka – a third-generation coal miner and president of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor union in America – had a powerful message for the audience, and one that anyone who cares about climate change should heed: If climate solutions don’t lift up working people, including coal miners, we will never have the coalition necessary to make meaningful change. He argued that, important as they are, the abstract benefits of climate action don’t pay the bills or put food on the table for working families. It’s a lesson in raw politics that can’t be ignored, and it resonated with me in particular, as the daughter of a coal miner myself.
Fortunately, California has shown that climate action is also about job creation – with more than 500,000 clean-energy jobs, we’re helping families thrive while also cutting the pollution that warms the planet and drives extreme weather. Now, we have to export that winning recipe to Washington, and then the world.
Another important takeaway for me was the connection between climate action and women’s empowerment. Around the world, women bear the brunt of climate change in many ways. If we want to solve this problem, we need to empower women to lead and find solutions that improve quality of life for everyone.
There are countless other lessons to be learned, and perhaps more than anything, I appreciated the way this event brought together so many people from diverse backgrounds, including elected officials from every level of government and from every corner of the planet, to industry leaders in transportation, health care, and retail.
We have a long road ahead of us to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, but some of the brightest minds in the world are hard at work finding solutions, and for a week, at least, we had the honor of hosting them in California.
—Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.