Publisher’s View: Climate

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What do you do when, decades into a relationship that you’ve molded your entire life around, you discover your bond is toxic? Bad for you, and bad for everyone around you.  Especially the children. 

California has entered the acceptance stage of the “carbon crises,” moving well past denial, though pockets of anger and depression continue to flair. The political class has notified the fossil fuel industry that we’re separating, on the road to a divorce. No more glossy new gas guzzlers to be sold after 2035; a halt to further expansion of methane gas infrastructure; an eventual retirement of methane gas appliances. It’ll take a while to disentangle ourselves, after such as long relationship, one, let’s admit, that was fun, even exhilarating. But the decision has been made; there’s no looking back.  

The warning signs were there when we first took up with fossil fuels. It smelled bad from the beginning, and not in a metaphorical way.  Smog became an issue early in our relationship, enveloping Southern California in its murky ickiness in the 1940s. Still, everyone was smoking cigarettes back then, so what difference did it make? We ignored our noses and went with our hearts, even as they started to shrivel from sucking in too much exhaust.  

California was made for the internal combustion engine, the curve of our roads, the stiff rise of our peaks, the splendor of our land was pure seduction for four wheels and a fashionable pair of sunglasses. After the early romantic years, give us a station wagon or mini-van and a suburb and we’ll give back three kids and a dog! Heaven on a stick shift.

Yes, things were sometimes rocky. It took effort to make the relationship work, mufflers added to dampen unflattering flatulence, catalytic converters to make things less stinky. Fossil fuels became ever more demanding, requiring expensive designer gasoline to be a tad less poisonous, the provision of which had to be handled with an awkward rubber sleeve, a kind of safe pumping. And there was a constant need to suck up to fossils’ in-laws, the Saudis, and fight for our love, Bush War I and Bush War 2.  What a mess!

We knew, or should have known deep in our curdling hearts, that the fundamental nature of things can’t be changed. A cigarette is still a cigarette, no matter the filter’s length. Now it’s over.  Really, we wish that fossil was dead.  Which it is, but that’s a tangent we need not traverse.

Electricity was there all along, silently waiting for us to notice. We thought it lacked stamina for those long rides we so craved, and it wasn’t so attractive, with dangly wires and weirdly gigantic transmission lines. Until recently, and still mostly everywhere else in the world, it was close cousins to fossil fuels, relying on strong doses of coal, oil, and natural gas to put the jump in its jolt. 

But in California, at least, it’s had a delicious makeover. Electricity shines like the sun, with wind tossed hair. In the low hum of an electric motor, you can almost hear Barry White. Batteries have become beautiful, capable of whisking us from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe before having to belly up to voltage feed trough for a time.

It’s not going to be easy, this divorce. Fossil fuels everything. Our stoves cook with gas, which also makes our showers sizzling hot and our homes toasty warm. Moving the musty fossil fuel furniture out of our kitchens and garages and replacing them with electric heaters and ovens could cost billions of dollars in California alone. And after they age those batteries will no longer be so gorgeous, with parts that need to be disposed of like medical waste lest they cross-contaminate things. Can we afford it? Can we afford not to?

Of course, we can get our cobalt-plated divorce, but if others don’t do the same fossil fuel will continue its home wrecking ways, even to us, even if we quit the sticky stuff entirely. California, as expansive and awesome as we are, can’t change the weather alone. We need Texas to join, and Florida, and India, and even Russia. We don’t even like those places that much, except those of us who moved there, good riddance to bad garbage. Follow us, we said waving film, smart phones, social media, and fashion into the face of the world.  And they did. But will they still?

Breaking up is hard, expensive, and dislocating. We’ve outgrown fossil fuels, which stayed the same while we moved on. It’s time to deepen our relationship with electricity, no question there’s sparks there. But we’ll need to keep an eye on our soon to be former paramour,  make sure others aren’t taking our space at the bar to grab an extra oily guzzle, spilling their filth towards us. Cause if they do, electricity may become our candy, but the weather won’t get any more dandy.