California is one of the most celebrated states in the world. It’s familiar with trailblazing greater good initiatives and revolutionizing public attitudes to worldwide issues. In fact, most recently its governor, Jerry Brown, became a household name synonymous with countering climate change following Trump’s decision to exit from the Paris Agreement.
Global altruism aside, on this occasion Governor Brown’s passion comes from a place far closer to home. California is facing a major public health crisis which is a combination of three factors all intertwined and both directly and indirectly linked to global warming – pollution, risks to public health and overcrowding.
Pollution and risks to public health are both the effects of emissions such as those from fossil fuels. Overcrowding — while contributing to the concentration of emissions in the state — cannot simply be tackled by reducing emissions. However, certain steps can be taken as part of the countering climate change initiative which will improve matters.
California is one of the most polluted states in the country due to its extensive agricultural industry and heavy reliance on transport network. Factory farming accounts for 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gases worldwide, with beaf and cattle milk accounting for the majority of this figure.
To put California’s farming industry into perspective, by 2004 it had already exceeded $30 billion in sales, making it the leading dairy state in America. The transportation sector, on the other hand, is heavily burdened by its enormous population. The public transportation infrastructure is negligible by comparison, meaning millions of commuters drive several times a day across long distances to go about their lives.
The result is heavy pollution which sits most noticeably in the Californian basins causing major risks to public health. 80% of Californians are living in toxic air, according to a study conducted by the American Lung Association. This means 32 million people are at higher risk of pulmonary complications and difficulties such as asthma, bronchitis, and lung disease, all carrying a potential for premature death.
Adding to this already volatile combination, California has the second highest rate of overcrowding in the nation, according to the American Community Survey. California is not just leading in “overcrowded households” but also in “severely overcrowded households” at 27% and 30% respectively. Only Hawaii beats California in these categories.
Aside from the socio-economic issues associated with growing up and living in overcrowded conditions, the housing shortage pushes more and more people to the outskirts of Californian cities resulting in more reliance on transport options which cause pollution.
While California has begun to deviate from the traditional coal-fired factories and power plants, managing methane emissions from rangelands and farms should gain a stronger focus. The California Air Resource Board (CARB) continues to work closely with the government to ensure standards and practices are honed more closely by the agricultural industry as well as continuously improved upon.
Carbon storage remains a major guard against global warming. Conservation tillage, irrigation efficiency and developments in farm machinery are incorporated considerably more often to reduce agricultural emissions.
Jerry Brown continues to work toward meeting the plan from 2012, agreeing to have 1.5 million emission-free vehicles by 2025. While a massively ambitious plan, the dedication from California’s 1990 commitment toward revolutionizing the transport sector has seen revival and reinforcement. Electrification of a robust and widespread transport system in California is Brown’s main priority.
With regards to the overcrowding issue, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are gaining popularity in California to cope with the housing shortage and poor transport infrastructure. Over 50,000 unplanned ADUs in California are rented to individuals who typically need a close proximity to work and who cannot afford the astronomically high rents elsewhere.
ADUs are still actively fought against by local authorities. However, there have been some gains by the general public, and they are seen as a way forward in counteracting the demand on transport and indirectly reducing emissions.
Kate Harveston is a political commentator and blogger. She blogs at onlyslightlybiased.com