It’s not easy being green, but California has sure made it cool.
A new book, “California Goes Green: A Roadmap to Climate Leadership,” chronicles the contemporary history of how the state became an international leader in energy efficiency, renewable power, electric vehicles and carbon reductions.
The book was co-written by Mike Peevey, a La Cañada Flintridge resident, and Pasadena’s Diane Wittenberg, both of whom have been pivotal figures in California’s environmental push.
“You can go different routes,” Peevey said recently over coffee at his LCF home, where he lives with his wife, former state Sen. Carol Liu.
“This state could’ve gone the route of Texas. Texas is a great big state and it’s a prosperous state in many respects, but the environment is not important to Texas compared with what it is here. It just isn’t. And we’ve done better than Texas economically; we’re the fastest growing state in the country and we’re doing it in a far more environmentally sensitive way.
“We hope that our book has impact beyond California, that can be a template for Ohio or North Carolina or other states.”
California, Peevey points out, is a world player by many measures.
“In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, if California were a nation, we’re ranking 20th — but in terms of GDP, we rank sixth,” he said. “And [Gov.] Jerry Brown has become a global leader. He goes to China, and he’s received by the president there.”
Peevey and Wittenberg know the ins and outs of environmental policies and breakthroughs in the state, having had a front-row seat for many of them.
After beginning his career as an economist, Peevey helped found the California Council of Environmental and Economic Balance in the Future in 1973; co-founded the energy supply and services company New Energy Ventures in 1995; and he was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to lead the Public Utilities Commission in 2002, helping the state recover from the energy crisis. He retired from the CPUC in 2014 after two six-year terms, which included some criticism related to his relationships with Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
After Wittenberg joined Southern California Edison (where she worked with Peevey) in 1985, she became president of a subsidiary, Edison EV, which provided electric vehicle charging installations for six major automakers.
She went on to become the founding president of the California Climate Action Registry, with which she led the development of the first greenhouse gas accounting and inventory reporting standards that were adopted by 41 states, the 12 Canadian provinces and six Mexican states. She’s retired, she said, but she’s also currently chair of the California State Parks and Recreation Commission.
“We thought we’d write this book and see if we still were speaking to one another when we finished,” she joked. “And it worked out — and we found things that we didn’t expect to.
“At the end of the book, we really would say it’s the citizens of California that really have driven the environmental movement, because they feel the economics and the environmental standards are very compatible. Even if it’s more expensive to achieve certain environmental standards, it’s a better quality of life.”
The book — a well-annotated 221 pages — delves deeper into why Californians feel that way, and how they fought for those standards.
It traces the state’s environmental history, including events as recent as July, when Brown signed legislation extending California’s cap-and-trade program, to the 1950s, when smog was so unbearable that members of the Highland Park Optimists Club, for example, would show up for meetings in gas masks, as pictured in the book.
“Smog was something you couldn’t dismiss or get rid of if you were rich,” Wittenberg said. “So it kind of united people into thinking the same way about air.”
And from there, the environmental consciousness of the state’s residents grew.
In their time writing the book, the authors said themes emerged, including a focus on bipartisanship. (An example: Peevey’s CPUC tenure under both Republican and Democratic governors.)
“The key to California’s success has been to make climate policy a bipartisan action that cannot be easily torn asunder by any one dissenting leader or political party,” the book reads. “State Republicans and Democrats fight polarized battles on many issues, including climate, but over the decades, leaders in both parties have agreed that California is too exposed to environmental problems to ignore their consequences.”
The authors also explore the value of science-driven data, much of it having come from work happening at California’s universities.
“Even though heads [of agencies] are political and reflect the current governor, year after year, the bureaucrats are getting data and seeing cause and effect, so they’re more believable to the citizens,” Wittenberg said.
The book, self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace, also is full of perspectives and profiles of important environmental players such as Joseph Kennedy, the oldest son of Robert Kennedy; Mary Nichols, a leading clean-air advocate; and Arthur Rosenfeld, a top advocate of energy efficiency.
“We thought a contemporary history needed to be written,” Wittenberg said. “And it would be good to do it with two people who had just retired and have been through it all together.”