Our Clearest Economic Opportunity in this Crisis:
Addressing Climate Change

Brittany Benesi

Brittany Benesi

Government and Community Affairs Manager

At a time when our economy has plummeted, our most marginalized are the most at risk, and the future feels so uncertain, the challenges we were facing prior to 2020 continue to evolve. Amidst the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change increasingly threatens the health, welfare, and safety of all Californians. Through unprecedented crises, however, can come opportunity. In California, we have the chance to build a more resilient economic future by addressing the growing impacts of climate change through advancing a climate and economic resilience bond to the November ballot.

SBC has been tracking, commenting on, and meeting with legislators to discuss a climate resilience bond (and the vital need to direct funding to the Sierra Nevada to address the increasing climate vulnerability our region faces), for nearly two years. At the start of this year, optimism about the bond’s chances of being on the November ballot abounded. The proposed bond offered funding to meet many of the Sierra’s needs around wildfire mitigation, forest health, regional climate adaptation planning, biodiversity, and conservation improvements. Both the Senate and the Assembly had their own versions of the bond advancing. Governor Newsom even included his own version of a climate bond in his January budget proposal.

Then the pandemic struck, and as with so many plans, the potential for a climate resilience bond, and the benefits it could bring to our region, went into a tailspin.

The Legislature was forced to recess, creating an abbreviated legislative session that reconvened this month. Legislators were told to cull their bill lists, aiming to focus on recovery, wildfire, and homelessness. In the May Revise of the budget, the Governor removed support for a climate bond, one piece of a very large pie of changes made as the Administration deals with the health and economic realities of the COVID-19 crisis. The Assembly version of the bond, AB 3256, led by Asm. Eduardo Garcia, continues to advance through the legislative session, in which approximately 1/10th of the bills originally intended for this year are being heard. SB 45, the Senate’s bond vehicle authored by Senator Stern and closely tracked in the first year of this session, appears to be stalled in favor of the similar Assembly bill. AB 3256 offers much of the funding needed to reduce wildfire risk and other climate impacts while also setting the stage for a greener economy, one that is prepared to face the crisis even amidst the pandemic that continues to stare down our communities and our loved ones.

While the state has made tremendous strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions both before and especially during this pandemic (through significantly lowered vehicle miles traveled), we cannot relent in our efforts to reduce GHG impacts that are already here. Our forests, our water systems, our natural working lands, and our local economies need help now.

Through forest health projects, wildfire mitigation, infrastructure improvements, land restoration, and more, a climate resilience bond would help the thousands of Californians who have lost their jobs get back to work in a growing green economy. A report recently completed by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute found that a bond focused on economic development through climate action, such as AB 3256, would create between 12.54 – 16.26 jobs per $1 million spent, depending on the area of climate impact. Forest health and wildfire mitigation efforts were found to have the greatest positive employment impact.

Delaying climate action implementation work will increase the risk of establishing a “lost generation” in California’s workforce. Students graduating into this economic crisis, in addition to the workers who have already lost employment due to the pandemic, face a really tough job market. A climate resilience bond offers the opportunity for California to launch a new generation of climate action work. SBC has been coordinating outreach and working with partners from across the Sierra Nevada to identify shovel-ready projects, the outcomes of which are illustrating both the massive need and incredible opportunity to put our state to work on climate resilience. 

We understand that in this challenging time the state faces many competing requests for funding. We also believe the state of California has a rare opportunity to act strategically and invest heavily in new and more resilient social, economic, and environmental systems that will accelerate a just transition for all Californians. Rural and natural resource communities in particular have been hit hard by the state’s stay at home orders. Many of our jurisdictions rely heavily on transitory occupancy tax revenue for public programs, and their tourism-based economies have been decimated by no-travel mandates. A strategic investment that aims to enhance wildfire resilience, restore water sources, and employ members of rural communities has the opportunity to accelerate our state’s recovery while increasing resilience across California and improving the lives of its residents.

It remains unclear whether a climate resilience bond will make it out of this legislative session, and what kind of support it will have if it does, but SBC will continue to drive home the message that climate action supports financial and community resilience. Out of this unprecedented crisis is an opportunity to reimagine our economic drivers, create more jobs, improve our natural resources, value the long-term economic benefits of the triple bottom line, and prevent the next catastrophe. Stay tuned.

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