California is America’s Environmental Leader

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

California's economy tops $2.9 trillion, the fifth largest in the world. The state also has seven of the top 10 greenest cities in the country. Put these two facts together and we disprove the notion that environmental progress squashes a thriving economy. Quite the opposite.

Every year WalletHub releases its annual Greenest Cities in America rankings. The 100 largest cities in the country are compared across 28 green indicators, ranging from greenhouse gas emissions per capita to the number of smart-energy policies. California cities come out as the winner this year. Seven of the top 10 greenest cities in the U.S. are in California: San Francisco (1), San Diego (2), Irvine (3), San Jose (5), Fremont (7), Sacramento (8), Oakland (10).

The Bay Area and Southern California contain the greenest cities in the U.S. For the lowest amount of greenhouse gas emissions per capita, two of the six cities ranked are in both regions of California (Oakland and San Bernardino). Among cities with the highest percentage of green space, two of the five cities are also in both regions (Fremont and Irvine). San Francisco ranks among the cities with the lowest percentage of commuters who drive and the highest bike scores.

San Francisco and San Diego rank among the cities with the most farmers markets per capita. However, there is a caveat with that one. Most of the produce sold at farmers markets in both cities come from other areas in the state, namely the San Joaquin Valley, so there are the miles trucked to get the produce there to consider.

Inland areas of California are ranked lower among WalletHub’s rankings. Fresno, smack dab in the middle of the state, ranks 93 among cities with the least percentage of green space. If inland areas such as the San Joaquin Valley worked to make their cities more environmentally friendly, the golden state would truly be golden. 

Most Americans want the government to tackle climate change

Polls show that Americans want the federal government to do a better job in tackling climate change. A Pew Research survey from earlier this year found that 67 percent of Americans say the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. The survey also found that 69 percent of Americans say the federal government is doing too little to produce water quality, while 64 percent say the same about air quality. 

A Pew Research survey last year found that 63 percent of Americans say stricter environmental regulations are “worth the cost.” Since 2017, the amount of Republicans who share that view has increased from 36 percent to 45 percent. 

California is an environmental leader

California is a clear environmental leader in the U.S. The state has ambitious climate change targets, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Other 2030 targets include a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in vehicles, 50 percent renewable energy, and doubling energy efficiency in existing buildings.

The state launched a cap and trade program in 2013. It is the fourth largest such program in the world. The program applies to large electric power plants, large industrial plants, and fuel distributors. It is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the sectors it applies to by over 16 percent between 2013 and 2020, and another 40 percent by 2030. There are around 450 businesses accounting for 85 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions that must comply. The program is linked with programs in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. 

California shows the nation that it is possible to have stricter environmental laws and tackle climate change while growing the economy. If the state was a country, it’s $2.9 trillion economy would be the fifth largest in the world. The state represents 14 percent of the country’s economy. Over the past three years, $110 billion in venture capital was invested in the state, which is five times more than the total of all other states. “California’s outlook is bright with economic and job growth both expected to be strong over the next five years,” Forbes proclaims. 

What does that mean for the nation? There is a political saying that as California goes, so goes the nation. In other words, if the federal government took climate change and the environment as a whole as seriously as California does, the economy would grow while making this country more livable for its citizens and creatures. 

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