Out of Sight, Out of Mind Is Not a Strategy for Addressing Climate Change

California is doing much to reduce its carbon footprint and address the growing threat of climate change, but we’re also missing big opportunities to do even more, faster. And, in some cases, our actions or inaction are making things worse, by exporting the problem to other states with significantly higher carbon output. There was an example of this just last week when the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) voted to oppose legislation (SB 1298, Cortese) that would make it less complicated and costly to build data centers in our region.

Data centers are critical to our digital economy. They allow us to work remotely, enable telehealth, remote learning and other key services, and they are the engines of online commerce, social media and digital communications. But the companies that build and use data centers have choices about where to put them. Making it more difficult and costly to build data centers in California runs the risk that they will instead be built in states like Texas or Nevada, which gets 70% of its electricity from burning fossil fuels. By comparison, 60% of California’s electricity comes from clean renewable sources. And the number is only growing.

Housing is another area where there’s a huge disconnect between what we’re saying and what we’re doing when it comes to climate change. Fierce local resistance and opposition to building new housing in our urban coastal areas has been a disaster for our climate. Not only has it caused an affordability crisis, but it’s also forced new housing far inland, where workers must endure long, polluting commutes and triple-digit summer temperatures that gobble up energy in the form of air conditioning.

It’s important to know that California has the cleanest lowest carbon electricity portfolio of any state, our gasoline is the cleanest, and our per capita GHG production among the lowest of any state, yet we refuse to build sufficient housing here to allow people to live in the climate friendly world we have created. And then consider that in the first two months of 2024, San Francisco permitted just seven units of new housing. That’s not a typo. SEVEN! The upshot is that roughly 40,000 Californians a year up and move to Texas in search of affordable housing where their carbon output immediately triples!

Out of sight may mean out of mind. But until California better aligns its housing and regulatory policies to be consistent with our climate goals we’re still just part of the problem. Along that front, the Council is working on solutions and, in partnership with Assemblymember and Select Committee Chair on Permitting Reform, we’re working on an important permitting and regulatory reform initiative. Stay tuned for more on that.

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