California may be ground zero for car culture in the US, and Los Angeles may be the epicenter of car culture in the Golden State. It’s been that way since the end of World War II, actually. In fact, the era of easy personal mobility has engulfed the city and the surrounding area in endless traffic jams. They are so frequent and so infuriating, the nonstop congestion in the area is what led Elon Musk to conceive the idea for the Hyperloop, an underground network of tunnels that would allow people to bypass the insanity on the streets above.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti is proposing his own version of a Green New Deal. If he gets his way, the impact on personal vehicles will be profound. Among other things, Garcetti’s plan calls for 80% of the vehicles in LA to be powered by electricity or zero emissions fuels by 2035. That’s just 15 years from now, folks. Which means there are going to be a lot of changes in La La Land coming soon. The plan calls for the city to be carbon neutral by 2050.
“Politicians in Washington don’t have to look across the aisle in Congress to know what a Green New Deal is — they can look across the country, to Los Angeles,” Garcetti said — an obvious jab at Congressional Republicans who are still marching in lockstep to the tune called by the Koch Brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
“With flames on our hillsides and floods in our streets, cities cannot wait another moment to confront the climate crisis with everything we’ve got,” Garcetti said. “L.A. is leading the charge, with a clear vision for protecting the environment and making our economy work for everyone.”
Taming The Congestion Monster
The Detroit News has more on the transportation part of the plan. The city expects to decrease the average distance driven by city residents from an average of 15 miles a day today to 13 miles by 2025 and 9 miles by 2035. Those reductions will be made possible by the completion of initiatives already underway, including a massive build-out of public transit and a proposed “congestion pricing” pilot that would make driving more expensive in some traffic-choked areas.
Buildings & Waste
As reported by Grist, the Green New Deal proposed by Garcetti will require all new city-owned buildings and major renovations to be “all-electric,” effective immediately. The plan also calls for phasing out styrofoam and the planting of 90,000 trees by 2021. Plastic straws and single-use containers will be banned by 2028. The city intends to recycle 100% of its wastewater by 2035 and build a zero carbon electrical grid. An 80% renewable energy goal by 2036 is also specified in the plan.
The LA Green New Deal is expected to save 1,600 lives and 660 trips to the hospital each year, and avoid $16 billion in health care costs for city residents by 2050. By that date, every building in the city is expected to produced no carbon emissions, and the city will have stopped sending any trash to landfills. Garcetti says the LA Green New Deal will create 400,000 jobs in green industries as well.
Fairness For Workers
That latter point is important. As commentator John Russo writes, workers who fear losing their jobs will oppose plans like the Green New Deal if they do not see path for them thrive financially in a nascent green economy. “Working-class people and their communities are harmed by both environmental and economic injustices, and they have few economic choices. Solutions that might seem obvious, like ending the use of coal, can come with real costs — like loss of jobs.”
“To build a just and inclusive movement to fight climate change and overcome past environmental classism, we need empathy, shared values, and organizing.” Russo adds. “This is what the Green New Deal promotes. In a short film about the resolution, Ocasio-Cortez imagines a green future that links carbon use with job guarantees that provide workers with good wages and benefits. But the GND’s most important contribution may be its call to build an environmental movement where no one is left behind.”
Cheers & Jeers
The Sierra Club has given the Garcetti plan a ringing endorsement, but other environmental groups claim it is too modest to be effective. In a statement, the LA chapter of the Sunrise Movement says, “Our generation’s future, as well as the future of Los Angeles and of the world, depends on us reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This is not a goal — it is a deadline. With Mayor Garcetti’s current plan for net-zero emissions by 2050, Los Angeles is on track to be 20 years too late. That is not a Green New Deal.”
The Sunrise Movement has a point. With many major international climate groups saying the world has less than 12 years to get its house in order, plans that don’t reach fruition for 30 years are just greenwashing or window dressing. Take your pick. Despite the grand pronouncements by LA and New York City, the sense of urgency still does not match the seriousness of the challenge. Perhaps humanity’s epitaph will be, “We waited too long. Sorry. Better luck next time.”