A UCR Professor for 50 years—and a local elected official for 33 years, I will draw on the work of several authorities to highlight my perspective on climate change, Southern California, and 2050.
I want to frame my comments around a quote from Jeffrey Sachs who writes in the
Age of Sustainable Development, “A good society is not only an economically prosperous society (with high per capita income) but also one that is also socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and well governed.”
This is certainly my call for our region in 2050. Will Southern California become more prosperous, inclusive, sustainable, and well governed over the next 35 years? If so, how will that come about?
Let me call out one likely outcome—former Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu says within 20 years, renewable energy sources (wind and solar) will be cheaper than carbon fuel. Battery storage and local distribution will fundamentally change energy production and distribution.
California is the greenest state in the country, and is a leader and model for the world. AB 32 and SB 375 have dramatically changed the policy future of Southern California. Yet unprecedented climate changes are coming and will threaten our future. (See PPIC, Climate Change, California Future, February 2015.) These changes will certainly require new, major, and systemic public policy decisions for a good society. As explained by Thomas Friedman in
Hot, Flat, and Crowded, “This is not about the whales anymore. It’s about us. And what we do about the challenges of energy and climate, conservation and preservation...we can’t do it the old way—by just mining the global commons and by thinking that the universe and nature revolve around us, and not the other way around.”
Friedman ends his book with a powerful quote from John Dernbach, a national environmental law expert, “The decisions Americans make about sustainable development are not technical decisions about peripheral matters, and they are not simply decisions about the environment. They are decisions about who we are, what we value, what kind of world we want to live in, and how we want to be remembered.”
From the point of view of good governance, can this extraordinary region get its act together? Two political scientists offer a pessimistic conclusion in their widely used textbook, City Politics, “Governmental fragmentation will continue to be a fixture of the American metropolis, as will sprawl and its attendant problems. This is why the art of muddling through will continue to define the regional policy agenda.” The future of a good society for Southern California and its interlocking economic, social, and environmental changes requires a better approach than “muddling through.”
I prefer the call of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley in
Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy. They write, “...metropolitan areas are the engines of economic prosperity and social transformation in the United States...We ...believe in metropolitan pragmatism, metropolitan power, and metropolitan potential.” They emphasize that we cannot look to the state or federal government.
It is time that Southern California, as a region, gets about inventing its future. Economic, educational, and political leaders have the opportunity and the responsibility to go beyond defending turf. Yet where is the broader vision and where are that bold, systemic policy proposals that extend across the region?
Those metropolitan regions where governments cooperate effectively, and proactively, will succeed, and those that are characterized by conflict and inaction will fail. Explained differently, the fate of Southern California will depend on answering the challenge of good regional governance.
The LA Times on September 14th, 2015 reported how “The mayors of a dozen cities in the U.S. and China are negotiating agreements to team up in the fight against climate change, starting with a plan...between Los Angeles and Beijing officials to collaborate in promoting clean air in their cities.” Why not us in Southern California? Why not a 2050 vision of the good society?
Sadhu Johnston, Steven Nicholas, and Julia Parzen in their excellent book,
The Guide to Greening Cities, end with this call to action: “The green city movement and the race to resilience aren’t about planting a bunch of trees, restoring a few wetlands, weather-stripping some houses, and checking the box of ‘gone green.’ They are about creating next-generation cities—vibrant and beautiful urban communities in which people enjoy clean air and water, healthy food, access to affordable shelter and meaningful work, and a sense of belonging and worth.”
What could that future look like? Vishanan Chakrabarti in
A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America offers a brilliant analysis of one such future: “We can forge a nation where every one of us has a fair shot. We can provide more prosperous, more sustainable, and more joyful lives for all of our people. We can create a superior version of our most significant global export: the American city. We can and should construct not just a bigger boat but a better boat—an urban ark that delivers us to the safe harbor of prosperous shores.”
More locally, Western Riverside Council of Governments (WRCOG) has developed and approved a Subregional Climate Action Plan. Its objectives are to create local jobs, promote healthier communities, become more energy self-sufficient, enhance social equity, reduce emissions, improve air quality, and protect natural systems, and save money. Strategies are identified. It is a subregional game plan for achieving the objectives of a good society. Success needs, however, to be measured. I would strongly recommend the adoption and use of the STAR Community Rating System.
As a long time UC professor, I give many high marks to Southern California for investments and advancements in the areas of air, transportation, and water. What has taken place in these areas is arguably the best in the world. It is time however for this region to connect these and other efforts. It is time to integrate policy areas and to collectively look for ways that will result in a good society. As explained by Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton in
The Regional City, “...we cannot treat these (different) aspects of metropolitan life...as if they are separate problems. We must weave them together in cohesive whole that recognizes both the region and the neighborhood as the building blocks of our daily life.”
The 2050 objectives of a good society for Southern California depend importantly on good governance—can we develop the vision, plans, and cooperation necessary to achieve regional success? Coming together to create a resilient region and resilient cities requires a continuing, comprehensive, long term effort. As David Miller and Raymond Cox emphasize in their new book:
Governing the Metropolitan Region is America’s New Frontier.
SCAG’s Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Community Strategies is a primary forum for starting and extending the conversation on the regional future of Southern California.