Going Green: Is It About Jobs or the Environment?

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The latest hickup over Proposition 23, which its backers call the California Jobs Initiative, is about the nature of the law it seeks to suspend, AB 32, known as Global Warming Solutions Act. AB 32 was enacted in 2006, and the heart of the law puts California on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 by 2020.

The Schwarzenegger administration has said that the law would create 100,000 "green" jobs in new industries, thereby making the law a jobs-creation effort, which is supposed to be phased in beginning next year.

Recently, new studies suggest that AB 32 may create only 10,000 new jobs, suggesting less value to the law from an economic perspective.  Proponents of Proposition 23 have seized this new estimate as yet another reason for suspending AB 32. They argue that while the law will create few jobs, it's certain to kill hundreds of thousands of jobs in manufacturing and assembly plants that are unwilling or unable to convert their facilities to meet new standards.

The jobs debate is interesting and important, but it addresses only one side of the greenhouse gas emmisions question. Even if we accept the lower figures and the potential of some lost jobs, there is another side of the question--our physical health in a polluted environment.

Too often left out are the costs of California's tortured air quality in the forms of premature deaths, asthma, and environmental devastation. These issues don't attract the same attention because they have emerged over decades and are hard for many of us to see and feel, unlike a pink slip at the work place. Still collectively, they add up to tens of billions of dollars and thousands of lost lives annually in harm to Californians--19,000 per year, in fact, according to the American Lung Association.

The most recent polls show Californians are pleased with AB 32 by a margin of about 2-to-1. This seems to mean that whatever their concerns about jobs, they are more worried about the state of the environment and its costs to society. It's an interesting cunundrum that pits economic security against quality of life. If California opts for the latter in rejecting Proposition 23, it will be yet another way in which this state marches to its own political drum beat.      

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