Op-Ed: Grassroots activism is key for state to remain a global leader on environmental issues

California has been a global leader on a number of issues. We’re home to innovators and engineers, cutting-edge research and pioneers across every industry. We have a long history of meeting seemingly insurmountable challenges head on, and time after time we’ve not only succeeded but sparked growth in our economy and improved the quality of life for countless communities.

Of course, it’s easy to look back and celebrate our victories. However, our record of strong environmental leadership didn’t come easy. Forty years ago, millions of Californians were choking on air pollution. Legislators at the time struggled to pass regulations, facing strong opposition from entrenched forces like the oil industry and critics that predicted any reforms would doom the economy. Sound familiar?

We know from experience that eventually the needed reforms passed and our regional air quality improved substantially. We also know that the combination of our population growth and the real threat of climate change require constant vigilance. We’d never accept the technological advances of the 1980s and call it a day, and we can’t expect the progress made decades ago to sustain us through today’s challenges.

The state Legislature continues to grapple with problems posed by climate change, and while there have been victories, we’re still faltering when it comes to passing laws that strengthen protections for our environment. Despite our progressive reputation, several pieces of legislation recently failed to pass: the extension of our seminal carbon cap-and-trade program; plans to clean up dirty air in our poorest and most polluted communities; disclosure of chemical residuals dumped on land and water from oil and gas drilling; disclosure of toxic chemicals used in everyday cleaning products; a reduction of Styrofoam products that litter our neighborhoods; and even the preservation of existing protections for our wild and scenic rivers.

By design, the Legislature is not a fast-moving vehicle; getting bills passed into law, with all the committees, negotiations and compromises, is like steering a large ship with a small and occasionally mutinous crew. But with momentum gaining on the need to address many environmental issues simultaneously, legislators must stay focused and committed, and we need our constituents to get engaged.

First and foremost, we need to know that our constituents have our backs when we vote against vested interests with deep pockets and powerful connections. This is how you can effect change. Grassroots activism is everything in this fight.

Second, it’s important to recognize the false premise that informs much of the debate surrounding environmental regulation — that fossil fuels and deregulation are job promoters, and that green energy and thoughtful regulation are job killers. California’s green economy blows this lie out of the water.

We’re creating tens of thousands of jobs in green energy production, energy efficiency, electric transportation and emerging technologies. We’ve led the nation in solar jobs with over 100,000 linked directly to this growing industry. These technologies are helping to fuel California’s powerhouse economy, the sixth largest in the world. On a national scale, the statistics are even more staggering. In the energy efficiency sector alone, there are 2.2 million jobs — that’s 10 times the number of jobs provided by oil and gas drilling, and 30 times the number of coal jobs. We can and will continue to grow our economy while reducing our carbon footprint.

Finally, we must recognize that environmental issues do not exist in a vacuum. Lack of regulation on emissions tends to hit the poorest communities the hardest — communities near ports or major highways, for example. Many of the impacts of climate change will be felt first by communities with the least amount of resources to mitigate them.

We’ve worked hard to become a global leader on environmental stewardship, and we can’t afford to throw in the towel now. Your voice can make a difference — whether it’s speaking up at a city council meeting, pushing for legislation in Sacramento or advocating for change in Washington. If you don’t know where to start, call my district office at (818) 558-3043. We’re happy to help.

LAURA FRIEDMAN represents Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge and sections of Burbank in the state Assembly.