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Cooling the Sky: Creating Climate Policy in California

UCD-ITS-RP-12-07

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Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel and Mary Nichols (2012) Cooling the Sky: Creating Climate Policy in California. Boom: A Journal of California (Spring 2012), 17 - 32

California pioneered car-centric cities and lifestyles like nowhere else. By 1930, one of every five California residents owned a car, a level not reached in western Europe until the 1970s. With motorization came high oil use, smog, and greenhouse gas emissions. The downside of cars became apparent by the mid-20th century, when brown smog started to blanket Los Angeles, heightening Californians’ awareness of the health, economic, and aesthetic downsides of the car-dependent lifestyle.

Now, as part of a larger effort to address climate change, California is pioneering policies to reduce vehicle use and their greenhouse gas emissions. And whereas most of the international discussion of climate solutions has focused on electricity and coal, in California greater emphasis has been given to transportation, where three-quarters of all oil consumed and 40% of all greenhouse gases emitted are for the movement of goods and people. Because cars, oil, and environmental leadership are intertwined, any strategy to reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions must target transportation, especially in California.

A key agent in the design and implementation of climate policy is the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the agency most responsible for California’s leadership in air pollution regulation and policy. Since its establishment in 1967 by Governor Ronald Reagan, CARB has been highly effective at regulating conventional air pollutants. Its clean air policies were imitated in Washington, DC and around the world, leading to the commercialization of catalytic converters, reformulated gasoline, zero emission vehicles, and many other technology innovations. As Daniel Yergin notes in The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World, CARB became the “de facto national authority.” Now its mission is evolving and spreading as it extends this leadership to climate policy and regulation.