Guest column: When climate is a “damn emergency,” can California move fast enough?

In September 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom stood amid the devastation of a wildfire that ultimately burned more than 300,000 acres, incinerated entire towns, and killed 16 people. His voice hoarse in a ghastly gray air, the governor spoke angrily.

“This a climate damn emergency,” Newsom said. “Mother Nature bats last and she bats 1,000. The debate is over around climate change.” Newsom said the state’s ambitious goals for slashing greenhouse emissions were “nice,” but not enough: “We have to step up our game.”

California has long been lauded as a leader in the fight against the most severe harms of the climate crisis — and rightly so. On multiple fronts, the state has been outpacing its neighbors for years in pursuing a range of protective strategies.

In June, Newsom signed a state budget allocating $54 billion — more than a sixth of total spending — to programs to “protect Californians from the impacts of climate change, help forge an oil-free future and tackle pollution.”

But while the talk is strong, the implementation is not and the disturbing fact is that California has fallen well behind on achieving its climate goals.