In California, we're up close and personal with the effects of climate change. Between the worst drought in California's history, fires across the state, 26 million dead trees in the Sierra Nevada, massive heat waves, and rising sea levels, there's no doubt that climate change is real -- and California is ground zero.
This week, the California Air Resources Board released new regulations to extend the Cap and Trade program that began in 2006 -- a move that will help bolster the governor's plan to keep California on a path toward clean energy and climate leadership. It's an important step, but the Cap and Trade program alone will not solve our climate problem -- we need to ban on oil drilling and fracking in our state.
It's common knowledge that when the bathtub is overflowing, the first thing to do is turn off the water. Our state is trying to sop up the water on the floor but isn't turning off the tap.
The tap in our case? Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The source of these greenhouse gas emissions? Oil and gas. One key solution is to turn off the tap in California is to radically reduce the amount of gas and oil we are pulling from our ground to both use in our state and sell to the rest of the world.
A recent inventory of greenhouse gases released by the state shows we're making progress on reducing emissions, but we still have a long way to go. In 2014 California had already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by almost 10 percent compared to 2004. However, we are still releasing 441.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year -- placing California in the top 10 when states are ranked by highest emission level.
And that number is just what's released in our state. It doesn't account for the dirty oil that is extracted from California and burned in other parts of the world.
Our state is doing great with solar energy and clean cars, but it has to get real about our outsized carbon footprint and commit to a steady decrease in oil drilling and fracking, first targeting drilling near homes and schools, as well as cutting back on drilling for fuels that emit particularly high levels of carbon dioxide. These are urgent first steps needed to protect our children and families. We can also start by retraining our workers for jobs in fields that bolster California's economy without destroying our climate. By 2030, we can phase out all oil drilling and fracking.
It's an ambitious plan, but there isn't an alternative if we want to protect our state. Californians are no strangers to climate leadership, and we can get the job done.
To be clear: a ban on oil drilling and fracking requires action from the governor. But in the meantime, there are steps we can all take. Trucks and cars are responsible for most of California's greenhouse gas emissions. Buying an electric car, choosing public transit, and contacting legislators to demand increased funding for mass transit are ways we can all move this process along. Governor Brown can also release funds collected from the oil industry to fund programs that help low-income Californians get cleaner cars.
Another important piece of this puzzle is solar power, which can heat our water, power our computers, and keep our air conditioners running. Solar power works -- and it works best when we need it the most. We can all urge utility companies to invest in clean energy and offer more options for Californians to invest in solar power.
Already, California stands out as a leader in solar power and clean cars, with over 200,000 electric cars in our state. By limiting the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that businesses are allowed to release or requiring them to pay for credits when they exceed that limit, Governor Brown's efforts to extend cap and trade may help too.
But these steps alone don't get to the root of the problem. The next job for Governor Brown is to find ways to contain carbon and keep it in the ground. If our state is serious about leading the battle for our climate, we need to phase out oil drilling and fracking.
Dan Jacobson is the Legislative Director of Environment California and is on the steering committee of Californians Against Fracking, a coalition working to win a statewide ban on fracking and other dangerous oil and gas extraction activities in California.