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Protecting Paradise with California Leadership on Climate Change

As California reels from the most devastating fires in our history, with a staggering loss of life and property in Paradise, Malibu, and Ventura, our first attention has to be for prayers for the victims and specific offers of help to navigate the massive losses with assistance of every kind.

But what happens next?

Since we’ve now faced season after season of brutal fires that have done deep damage to communities across the state, how can we approach the specific tragedies that just happened — the worst in our history — as an opportunity to call forth a brighter new possibility?

First, I think we need to take seriously the obvious metaphor here, which is that human beings in general, and Californians in particular, are facing the potential devastation of “paradise.”

We have been gifted with an extraordinary planet and an incredible state, but our human activities are now imperiling our future. These disasters are a strong warning flare to take far more seriously the danger of climate change for the future of humanity.

In fact, I see this as an opportunity to call California more urgently to the global forefront of leadership on climate change. As fires are one of the most dramatic results of a rapidly heating climate, we can see them as a motivating spur to step up more boldly. Fires are visceral, real, and in our face in ways that scientific data and long-term predictions are not.

And the fact that they keep coming, season after season, prevents us from falling back into old patterns of procrastination or laziness — and motivates us to move leading-edge solutions to the top of the priority list.

It’s vital to see climate change as a transcendent threat that imperils ALL of us, which can, if we approach it in the right way, actually lead us to come together in a shared mission and purpose beyond political, cultural, and economic divides.

Rural, poorer, Republican-leaning districts like Butte County are just as threatened as wealthy Democratic enclaves like Malibu.

In fact, the real solutions will require ALL of us to pitch in, from farmers to manufacturers to teachers to tech titans to media mavens.

So how can THIS be the moment when we commit to making a collective shift forward?

First, what if Governor-elect Newsom took the time before taking office to gather the best climate change leaders from around the world to design an even bolder pathway for California to be the largest economy to achieve bold carbon-change reductions by 2030?

In other words, to leverage this unprecedented disaster to spur an unprecedented commitment beyond what California has already committed to?

And what if this also spurred a bipartisan focus to make California the greenest AND the most economically successful state in our nation… faster than anyone is expecting?

Business leader Rinaldo Brutoco has called this a California Moonshot — a chance to do what seems impossible in a decade, just as the lunar program once did for our nation. That is the holy grail of climate change. We need a massive demonstration of what is possible (and works economically) or our planet is cooked, literally and figuratively.

For instance, what if California were to achieve a 75% reduction in carbon by 2030?

If we achieved such a goal, we could lead the way for the entire planet and thus help the world make the 45% carbon reduction that the latest IPCC report says is required if the world is to hold climate change to a barely manageable 1.5-degree Celsius increase versus a devastating 2-degree increase (or more).

While California reaching an unprecedented carbon reduction in 12 years would not, by itself, solve the climate change problem for the world, what COULD lead to a real and lasting solution for the world is to do this and to amplify it globally through our tech, media, and political leadership.

In other words, we can INSPIRE people around the world by demonstrating what’s possible AND by actually providing the tools, technologies, grassroots, and media to empower this shift at a far greater pace.

We would do this because of our personal interest in a safer state AND the interest of the greater good.

The potential benefit of so many areas of California being hit with fires is that we cannot see this as someone else’s problem. Wherever we live, a hot dry landscape imperils all of us… and can motivate us to participate in real solutions.

If we take the destruction of Paradise as a wake-up call to recognize that our paradise-like planet can literally be destroyed, the destruction of Malibu can be taken as a wake-up call for media celebrities to take this just as seriously.

It’s no longer a problem for someone else to handle — we can’t just leave it in the hands of the firefighters, who are called to face the effects, not the causes. It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment.

Another positive possibility that could emerge is if we also made a state-wide commitment to help rebuild the town of Paradise as a literal demonstration of the eco-civilization we need to create — a zero-carbon, fully renewable, sustainable, ecological paradise in which we can see the future in a more tangible way.

In other words, a city-of-the-future and a true paradise that is green and sustainable for the long haul.

Doing that would also provide a way to ground the vision for the future of California in a specific location that’s sustained the worst tragedy in our history.

By committing to such a vision, it could also help us heal some of the red-blue political divides in our state by getting wealthy people from the coast to work on a demonstration in the heart of red-leaning districts in the foothills. Given that this tragedy happened right on the heels of a contentious mid-term election, using it as an opportunity to work beyond political divides would also be an inspired way to address the situation.

I believe that every tragedy has within it the seeds of a potential triumph. The above strategy represents a pathway in which the horror and devastation that California just experienced can result in a lasting positive contribution for the larger world.

Harnessing the can-do, innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of California to address the biggest challenge humanity faces is perhaps the most effective way to protect the paradise we’ve all been blessed with.

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