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Newsom cuts climate program funding to address budget deficit in a climate emergency

Policy

In 2022, California saw the devastating effects of the climate crisis as wildfires, droughts, floods and record-breaking heat waves impacted our most vulnerable communities across the state. It is clear that California needs to take aggressive measures to accelerate the state’s transition to clean energy, reduce carbon emissions and transform our transportation system. Unfortunately, while it is clear that the state should increase funding for climate initiatives, the 2023-2024 budget Governor Gavin Newsom released earlier this month makes cuts to some of the state’s most impactful climate programs and initiatives due to a decline in the state’s General Fund. 

We often say that communities of concern are often hit first and worst with the impacts of the climate crisis, and California is witnessing that now with multi-family affordable housing complexes being flooded, infant mortality rates increasing in areas where there is significant air pollution as a result of fossil fuels and long term health issues like asthma and cancer have higher occurrences in communities of concern. 

Transportation 

With transportation being responsible for more than half of the state’s carbon emissions, it is clear that climate investments in transportation need to be prioritized not only for the state to meet its climate goals, but also because pollution from transportation is causing long term adverse health outcomes for communities of concern. In 2022, the state budget included $13.8 billion for transportation programs for projects to advance rail and transit connectivity, improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians and incentives for zero emission vehicles. This year, the budget includes a $2.7 million reduction in funding from last year making billion dollar cuts or delays in funding for programs. 

Energy    

Although the Governor’s budget states that California “prioritizes affordability, reliability and safety as the state encourages efforts to decarbonize the grid and scale deployment of clean energy generation and storage,” programs to transform our energy system are among the programs with the most drastic cuts in funding compared to last year’s budget. The 2023-24 budget proposes a reduction of $897 million in General Fund and an additional $370 million in General Fund in delays to future years. 

One of the programs with the most drastic cuts in funding is for Low Income Residential Solar and Storage. The program will suffer a reduction of $270 million for solar and storage incentives in 2023-24, just as the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has finalized a decision to cut rooftop solar benefits for future customers

Another program to suffer reductions is the Equitable Building Decarbonization Program at the California Energy Commission, which not only includes a delay of $370 million in funds for this year, but also a reduction of $87 million for in the 2025 budget. 

Extreme Heat and Community Resilience 

In 2022, California experienced record-breaking heat waves that put a massive strain on our energy grid and resulted in deaths across the state. Despite knowledge of the fact that heat waves will continue to get worse as the climate crisis accelerates, funding for programs to address extreme heat and provide relief for communities suffered the most cuts in funding of any of the climate related programs, with a $735 million reduction across programs. 

Programs affected include the Extreme Heat and Community Resilience Program with a $25 million reduction, which is a 43 percent reduction compared to last year as well as programs to develop community resilience centers, which suffered a delay of $85 million to 2024.     

With a reduction or delay in funding to nearly every single climate program, some more than others, it does not seem as though the state government, which claims to be a leader in addressing climate change is prioritizing funding for programs but more importantly, not prioritizing the health and safety of the frontline communities who suffer the disproportionate impacts of climate change. 

Read more in Governor Newsom’s budget summary.    

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The Future of Schools is Electric

I (Karen Cederholm, Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation Climate Justice Intern) remember when my high school installed solar panels in its vast and barren parking lot; the blacktop used to capture so much heat you could feel it radiate back up at the end of the day. It was wonderful to see that the empty space was now producing clean energy while also providing shade to student and faculty vehicles during a typical sunny day in San Diego. Now, students from other schools within the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) will be able to see this transition as well as the Board of Education recently passed a fossil fuel free resolution on April 26, 2023 to make all schools in the district fully electric.

Spearheaded by the Schools Team of the San Diego Building Electrification Coalition, which we are members of, activists and students worked effortfully to call upon the Board of Education to commit the district to phasing out the use of fossil fuels. SanDiego350 garnered over 600 signatures on its petition and organized a rally outside of the district office on April 25 before the board meeting, demanding the adoption of a clean energy resolution. Participants also made comments to the board during the meeting, advocating for a fossil fuel free future (check out the Fossil Fuel Free Pledge where businesses, nonprofits, philanthropists and elected officials make this commitment!). With this new resolution, bus fleets and maintenance vehicles currently running on fossil fuels will be phased out, appliances in existing buildings will be replaced with electric ones and a reach code will be established for new construction. A Green Jobs curriculum will also be established to raise awareness of environmentally focused professions, and SDUSD will enroll in San Diego Community Power’s Power100 by the end of 2024, using 100 percent renewable and carbon-free energy.

This transition to clean energy is happening nationwide. The Environmental Protection Agency currently has a Clean School Bus Program running through 2026 that is distributing $1 billion to 389 public and charter school districts, and so far there are over 5,000 committed electric school buses across the U.S. Our own Solar Moonshot Program helps organizations make the switch to solar energy affordable by awarding grants to nonprofits. Solar and storage systems act as resilience hubs for schools and the surrounding community, and so far we have helped 9 solar projects happen across the country. Right now, we have $750,000 to help schools across the U.S. adopt solar power. If you know of an educational institution that wants to go solar but requires additional funding, consider sharing or submitting an application, which is located at the bottom of our Solar Moonshot Program page (www.solarmoonshot.org). 

Times are changing, and it’s more important than ever for public entities to get behind a green future. These switches are vital to improving the health of students, providing equitable education and reducing the human-carbon footprint that worsens climate change. If you are interested in reading more about climate education and why it matters, check out our previous blog post.

Photo credit: Solar Moonshot Program awardee, School District of West Salem

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Earth Day 2023: Invest in Our Planet

Earth Day is an annual event created to celebrate and be thankful for everything the Earth does for us. It is a time to strengthen our relationship with nature, give back as well as find ways to protect our planet for current and future generations. The theme for Earth Day this year is “Invest in Our Planet.” This theme resonates with me (Danylo Lesko, Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation’s Climate Justice Intern) as a current graduate student because education is the best way to invest in our planet. Education is critical in driving the transition to a sustainable future, providing the tools and resources for future generations to adapt to and address the climate crisis justly and equitably. By increasing the accessibility and quality of environmental education and shaping people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards the climate crisis, the world will see more effective, equitable and participatory change. Education can encourage people to change their behavior and attitudes and help them make informed decisions. It can empower all people and help motivate our youth to take action. 

Investing in climate education is essential to provide the tools and skills needed to drive a transition to a sustainable world. The climate crisis is magnifying the inequalities present in our societies, requiring innovative solutions that address these vulnerabilities. Investing in environmental and climate education can help change behaviors that harm the environment and transform attitudes and knowledge towards actions that promote positive environmental outcomes. Forward-thinking education needs to adapt to a rapidly changing world and provide future generations with the knowledge and practical skills they need to protect our planet and those who depend on it. Orienting education to include climate action and climate justice are important steps that help provide pathways for greater involvement and societal transformation. Enhancing climate literacy by including climate justice and climate equity will help ensure students develop confidence and passion for making a positive difference in society as activists and leaders. 

The climate crisis has already impacted young people with various concerns about their future, including where they will live, what work they will do and their quality of life. There is no national consensus about the importance of climate education, and the U.S. needs to have national science standards. Instead, each state determines what its schools teach, which can vary significantly between states. In 2012, the Next Generation Science Standards were developed to create a science standard for climate education. However, the standards are voluntary, and only some states have adopted these standards. Climate education allows for people to care for the planet while caring for each other. Social-emotional learning refers to the skills people need to be successful in life, such as goal setting, managing emotions, problem-solving, cultivating empathy, relationship skills and self-awareness. Incorporating social-emotional learning in climate education recognizes that humans are part of nature, helping promote an understanding of environmental justice issues and fostering collaborative problem-solving that addresses both planetary and human needs. Investing in climate education provides pathways for future generations to explore solutions that tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Investing in climate education is a way for students not only to learn about the climate crisis, but it also provides an opportunity for students to realize their own agency as climate justice leaders through interdisciplinary approaches rooted in social justice. 

Student leaders in Portland, Oregon helped transform climate education in the Portland Public Schools by advocating for a greater focus on climate and equity in their education. These student leaders helped initiate a climate justice curriculum that highlights climate resilience and how responsive the earth and marginalized and frontlines communities are to the impacts of climate change. Throughout the curriculum, students gain a deep understanding of how intertwined the climate crisis and climate justice really are and the ways both impact every aspect of their lives. A big part of this curriculum is looking at solutions and policy, which gives students an opportunity to identify how they can take action to address climate action and climate justice head on. Such approaches provide students with the background information they need to engage in activism that is very meaningful while providing a way to combat climate anxieties they may feel and empowering students to become transformative racial equity leaders and global stewards. When climate education is rooted in social equity that empowers students to take intersectional approaches that address all aspects of the climate crisis it helps lift up communities that are disproportionately affected, helping lift everyone with them. 

Each of us has the effective power to make our voices heard through the choices we make, our civic actions and personal interactions. What we do and how we do it has a huge impact on the planet and civic society. We can use our power to support actions that protect our environment and investing in education provides a pathway for collective action and transformation! We invite you to celebrate Earth Day this year by supporting climate education in your communities, and what better way than turning learning into action? Find an Earth Day event near you here, join in climate activism and celebrate the accomplishments of advancing climate justice and equity! 

Photo credit: Earth Day

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Nature-Based Solutions in San Diego

Nature-based solutions are actions to help protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges while simultaneously providing benefits for people and the environment. As the most biodiverse county in the continental United States, San Diego County is well positioned to utilize nature-based solutions. These actions can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve societal co-benefits.

Nature-based solutions aim to enhance the natural function of ecosystems to provide multiple societal co-benefits such as improved public health through cleaner air and water as well as the availability of open space, improvements to habitat for wildlife and plants, flood risk reduction and other ecosystem services that enhance the resiliency of our environment. Natural and working lands are vital in the carbon cycle in San Diego and throughout California. Healthy ecosystems that include vegetation and soil microbes capture and store carbon from the atmosphere. In contrast, changes that alter or damage ecosystems, including land use modifications, deforestation and wildfires, can release sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, accelerating the climate crisis. To balance between carbon stored and carbon released determines whether natural lands and ecosystems function as net sources or net carbon sinks. Protection of natural environments from land use and disturbances helps promote the functioning of forests, wetlands and oceans as carbon sinks that absorb more carbon than they emit.

San Diego has initiated multiple nature-based solutions projects already. However, the need to develop and scale up these projects is ever increasing as San Diego and California face impacts of the climate crisis. The United States Economic Development Administration’s Economic Integrator helped catalyze a nature-based solution project focused on upstream improvements to reduce runoff and debris deposited into San Diego’s stormwater infrastructure. This project helps mitigate the impact of flooding in the urban center while enhancing outdoor recreation and economic development for the County. The project focuses on Maple Canyon, nestled between Balboa Park and San Diego International Airport, a green space that buffers business with nature inside the urban core of San Diego. As flooding during storm events occurs, runoff and debris impact the downstream commercial enterprises, transportation networks and natural habitats. Restoration efforts have minimized flooding and stormwater runoff, helping protect vital urban infrastructure and important urban and natural landscapes.

As a coastal city, enhancing the resiliency of our coast is vital to managing climate change impacts such as sea level rise, coastal erosion and storm surges. Coastal wetlands throughout San Diego County are essential ecosystems that not only help with flood protection but are also some of the most productive ecosystems that play an integral role in the ecology of our watershed. Coastal wetlands are also considered “blue carbon ecosystems,” which include habitats like salt marshes and seagrass meadows that help capture and store more atmospheric carbon per acre than terrestrial forests. Nature-based solutions that preserve and restore these wetlands help build community resilience to the impacts of climate change by sequestering carbon and helping enhance the resiliency to sea level rise and coastal flooding. The Blue Carbon Collaborative, founded by the nonprofit organization Wildcoast, is a network of organizations working on the conservation, research and policy developments for blue carbon ecosystems and nature-based solutions. 

Only 10 percent of California’s original wetlands remain, yet they are some of the best ecosystems on the planet for taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it in the ground for a long time. Restoration of these wetlands provides an opportunity to enhance these ecosystems' production and utilize their potential as a natural climate solution. Aligning nature based solutions with the 30x30 plan to conserve 30 percent of our land and coastal waters by 2030 to protect biodiversity will expand access to nature while lessening the impacts of the climate crisis.

Cover photo credit: IUCN

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