California is the leader we need to combat climate change

This photo provided by Tesla shows the 2017 Tesla Model 3, a compact electric sedan that offers two levels of range. It's the newest model from Tesla and slots below the Model S sedan in the company's lineup. (Tesla Inc/AP)

Since President Trump took office back in January, he and his administration have made it very clear that not only is climate change not a priority, but it does not appear to even be on their radar. Having taken climate policy completely off of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website, an irony that is simultaneously horrifying and laughable, it is safe to say that Trump is just trying to ignore the issue completely, and forgo a greener tomorrow (or any tomorrow for that matter).

Luckily, while Trump is falling short, the state of California is ready and willing to pick up the slack. While many states have pledged themselves to an eco-friendlier future by way of standing by the Paris Agreement, none have taken quite as large a step forward as California has.     

California’s rules and regulations when it comes to environmental policy have been different from the rest of the country’s since 1970 and continue to vary today. This freedom to differ is due to the infamous smog that has covered areas in California for almost a century. When the air pollution first started to become an issue in California, people were unclear of its cause. However, when it was discovered that the likely culprit was car emissions, the state created the California Air Resource Board (CARB) in 1967. With the creation of the EPA and the Clean Air Act, the E.P.A. allowed California to continue to follow the stricter air pollution rules that they had already established. This waiver, which still currently holds, is the reason that California has become one of the leaders in the fight against climate change when so many others have had to take a step down.

The power that California holds has been working in tandem with standards and directives set about by the Obama Administration in past years, specifically targeting the automotive industry. Together, a program was created with the aim to increase the fuel economy of vehicles to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Of course, this initiative has been met with mixed reviews from automobile manufacturers. While many seem to support the idea that they need to improve upon the efficiency of their cars, they also see this goal as unrealistic and costing excessive funds that are not readily available. Unfortunately, to most manufacturers, the negatives outweigh the positives here, and within a day of being elected, car manufacturers had reached out to then President-Elect Trump asking him to change the program. Presently, the goal of the initiative has been changed so it now reviews the safety aspects of cars, rather than emissions.

However, California is standing their ground. They have not yet signed on to the change review that is focusing on safety rather than the environment, and have claimed that if their Clean Air Act waiver is taken away they will “likely end up in court.” This poses a problem for the auto industry, as over one third of America’s automobile market resides in California. If they decide to keep their initiative as improving vehicle fuel economy, the car industry may be forced to do the same. In doing this, California would be hugely contributing to a decrease in automobile emissions, a feat that would benefit the efforts to combat climate change immensely.

Other states need to be following in California’s footsteps. While many have taken efforts to continue to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement, this is not enough. While we sit and wait for President Trump to take any sort of action regarding the environment, our problem continues to worsen. While California may have an advantage in the fact that they have the ability to create their own rules regarding their handling of environmental laws, this does not mean others cannot try to uphold the same standards. By sticking by what they believe in and refusing to compromise on a critical issue, California may be single-handedly shaping the auto industry to look towards a greener tomorrow.

California isn’t the only leader we want in the fight against climate change, but if nobody else will stick up for our planet, then they are the leader we need. All states in our country and other countries around the world need to follow in California’s footsteps and prioritize the health of our planet above the wealth of our industries. While it is obviously optimal to find a solution that both benefits businesses and the environment, we must remember that money does not have meaning without a livable planet, and if things continue the way they have been, we may not always have that luxury.


Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor  for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.