Big chasm between California, Trump in approach to climate crisis
By Javier Romualdo
A US flag waves after a wildfire in Feather Falls, California. EFE/EPA/PETER DASILVA/ File
By Javier Romualdo
Los Angeles, Oct 8 (efe-epa).- How to deal with the climate crisis is a delicate issue in the heated US election campaign, with California experiencing the worst wildfires in its history and record temperatures that have motivated state authorities to announce an ultimatum: Prohibiting the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles starting in 2035.
The drastic measure, announced a few weeks ago by Gov. Gavin Newsom, puts the nation's richest and most populous state squarely at odds with President Donald Trump, who after pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord prevented California from imposing its own standards on vehicles' pollution emissions, which for decades have been stricter than those in the rest of the country.
"All presidents, from Nixon to Obama, Democrats and Republicans, have agreed that California should implement more aggressive measures because we have more impact on pollution. This administration is the first one that hasn't (agreed)," Hector De La Torre, a member of the California Air Resources Board, told EFE.
Newsom took Trump's decision to the courts in another chapter of enmity between the conservative president and progressive California, with Trump making the environment a special battle during the election campaign, a situation that could influence the result of the vote in key states.
With more than 40 million residents and an economy that - if it were an independent country - would be between Germany's and France's in size, California has styled itself as the leader in the fight against climate change, which the US government for the past four years has been denying exists.
The scant sympathy that Trump feels for the US West Coast is so public that he himself mentions the problems it is facing - such as fires, a housing crisis, high living costs - as an example of the consequences of electing a progressive government in the US.
For authorities in California, a state that a conservative president has not won since 1992, Trump's policy is retrograde in critical areas.
Saying that Californians have a different view, one that includes science and evidence that climate change is real, Newsom confronted Trump during a televised meeting in mid-September.
The president visited Northern California amid its worst fire season in history, where five of the 10 largest fires in the state's history have occurred this year even though fire season has traditionally been considered to come in October-November.
In August, thermometers in Los Angeles and Death Valley registered record high temperatures.
"It'll start getting cooler, just watch," the president responded to experts who had asked him to acknowledge climate change.
Instead of a discussion among the authorities of the same country, the conversation on climate change and what to do - or not do - about it seemed like a summit between two leaders with completely antagonistic visions and cultures, highlighting the fractured nature of US politics at present.
Equally antagonistic was the agreement that the California government signed this year with five automobile manufacturers representing 30 percent of the US market (Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo) in which they committed themselves to the state's objectives, in opposition to the Trump administration.
"Many European countries have similar measures. (In California) we're more in line with the world vehicle market than the US," De La Torre said.
A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found in 2018 that 54 percent of local residents felt that the state should be a global leader on the environment. The support for this notion among Democrat voters was 67 percent but among Republican voters was just 23 percent.
"Californians are more prone than Americans (in general) to say that global warming is extremely or very important to them and the majority are willing to make significant changes in their lifestyles," Mark Baldassare, the director of the institute, told EFE regarding another study carried out this summer.
The same study indicates that 53 percent of Californians trust their state government on environmental questions, while just 24 percent feel the same about the national government in Washington.
But not everyone feels the issue is so important.
The Republican Party of California saw Newsom's move as a disservice to his Democratic colleagues - Joe Biden and Kamala Harris - who are immersed in the election campaign for president and vice president, respectively.
In a tweet, the California GOP said it seems as if Newsom is trying to "torpedo" Biden and Harris and questioned why he announced prohibiting the sale of gas-powered vehicles less than a week before the first presidential debate, which was taking place in one of the biggest car manufacturing states: Ohio.
Biden needs to attract working class voters who helped swing the 2016 election to Trump. Voter surveys indicate that the contest could hinge on states whose economies are dependent on fossil fuels, like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.
Thus, some believe that the move made by California to ban such vehicles would be seen by undecided voters as a step backward since they might perceive in it the risk that they could lose their jobs.
"We've always been ahead of the rest of the US and often the world," De La Torre said.
California is the most important US market, twice the size of Texas and Florida, and during Trump's presidency it has been a bastion against the climate crisis on which the administration and much of the country has turned its back, although this stance is a double-edged sword for Democrats in the 2020 vote.