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California vote on Proposition 23 can set the pace on global warming

The Proposition 23 ballot initiative in California is a chance for a grass-roots expression on climate change -- and to send a signal to a stymied Congress.

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America rarely sees a popular vote directly on global warming, let alone one also tied to the economy. Most government action to deter climate change has largely been left to elected leaders, regulators, or judges – with few results so far.

Now, in a Nov. 2 ballot initiative, California stands to send a strong message to other states and Congress on whether the public wants to make short-term sacrifices for long-term cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The initiative, called Proposition 23, would suspend a landmark 2006 law passed by the California legislature mandating reduced carbon output by 2020. A suspension of the law would end only after the state’s jobless rate drops to 5.5 percent or less for a full year.

Thus if Prop. 23 passes, the law, known as the Global Warming Solutions Act, would probably not be implemented for years. The state’s current jobless rate is more than 12 percent, the worst since the Depression. And the state has had a 5.5 percent rate only three times since 1970. The last time was 2006 – when the law was passed.

If voters decide to keep the law, they will do so despite a warning from the state’s Air Resources Board that “California acting alone cannot reduce emissions sufficiently to change the course of climate change worldwide.” A vote against Prop. 23 should thus be seen as sending a signal to other states, Washington, and most nations that global warming is a more critical issue than any short-term damage to jobs and the economy.

Indeed, California is already a leader in clean-energy rules. And it is developing global capabilities in solar, wind, low-emission automobiles, and energy conservation. The state has 12 percent of the US population but accounts for only 6.7 percent of its CO2 emissions.

One tough question facing voters is whether California’s progress in green-tech industries can replace losses in industries dependent on coal and oil. Contending studies on the economic impact of the law, unfortunately, depend to a large degree on what Washington and the rest of the world do to advance clean energy, whether by subsidies, research money, or regulation.


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