After a summer of national and global climate devastation, Vice President Kamala Harris stopped by the Cowell Theater on Tuesday to tout Democrats’ progress on climate policy just weeks before the midterm elections.
During an extensive chat with podcasters Leah Stokes and Katharine Wilkinson for their show “A Matter of Degrees,” Harris talked about her Bay Area roots, the Inflation Reduction Act, and environmental justice – including how women, low-income communities and communities of color often bear the brunt of harmful policies.
At one point, Harris noted a “Venn diagram” connection between states that have bad climate records and those that seek to limit voting rights, reproductive health care and LGBTQ rights.
“You wouldn’t be surprised to know that there was significant overlap” between those states, Harris said. “When you figure out which states are also attacking or hindering smart climate policy, you’ll see a really interesting picture.”
The conversation followed months of extreme weather events exacerbated by human-caused climate change, including deadly heat waves, hurricanes and flooding, severe drought and a looming crisis on the Colorado River.
It also came a few weeks before COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held in November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Last year’s conference in Glasgow, Scotland, saw some victories, but was also criticized for hosting a large delegation from the fossil fuel industry and presenting pledges that some experts deemed too soft amid worsening climate crisis.
But Harris pointed out that the Inflation Reduction Act includes several concrete goals and provisions, including investments to modernize the US energy system and reduce energy costs through tax credits, rebates and financial incentives for manufacturers. and users of electric cars, rooftop solar panels and wind turbines. . Officials say its $369 billion in climate and energy funding will help put the United States on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% of 2005 levels by 2030. .
“We have to understand that we’re at a very specific point in time, and that window is going to close on us if we don’t act with a sense of urgency,” Harris said. She also said she had “a great sense of optimism that we feel the urgency, and thankfully we as an administration have been able to do things like the Cut Inflation Act.”
Tyrone Mullins, who runs an integrated waste management company in San Francisco, was among those present. He said positions on the climate crisis are a major factor in the upcoming elections.
“It’s part of everyday life,” Mullins, 37, said. “So what are we doing around this? What is our approach? What are we planning?”
For her part, Harris said she’s particularly excited about electric vehicles, including electric school buses.
“A lot of it has to do with a real intention to reorient industries, and to do it in a way that underscores the importance of American investment in R&D, research and development in the United States,” Harris said. . She said US-based manufacturing will not only help solve some of the supply chain issues that have come to light during the COVID-19 pandemic, but will also help the country move towards clean industries. .
“We see an advantage in investing here in production, in understanding and believing that our standards are closer to where we should be as a world, in terms of manufacturing,” she said.
The vice president also acknowledged challenges at home, including policies that continue to leave the most vulnerable at risk. She highlighted the intersectionality of economics, public health and environmental justice, noting that 70% of people who live in the poorest air quality regions of the country are people of color and poor.
It was a message that likely resonated with many in the crowd, including Leah Kalish, head of youth engagement at the California Academy of Sciences. Before the event began, Kalish said she was optimistic that the Inflation Reduction Act would soon start to make a difference.
“I’m excited to start seeing these changes…and the positive impacts on our climate and our communities, especially our disenfranchised and underserved communities,” said Kalish, 45. She added that climate change is “100% a factor” in her vote in the upcoming elections, and that it plays a huge role in the lives of the young people she works with.
“The climate crisis is here. It is very serious. And not just for my generation, but for the generation of young people I serve. It affects them every day and it will continue to affect them for the rest of their lives,” she said.
For its part, California has set several of its own climate goals that in some cases exceed those of the nation, including the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% of levels from 1990 by 2030.
The state also announced in August that it would ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, which air quality officials say will lead to significant emissions reductions. (Transportation accounts for up to half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the state Energy Commission.)
But the Cut Inflation Act also includes programs that will resonate with Californians, including a $5 billion investment in forest management and wildfire risk reduction. The state’s wildfires in recent years have become more frequent and more devastating under the state’s hotter, drier climate regime, and experts say forest management plays an important role in mitigating the destruction. But with more than half of California’s forests under federal ownership, collaboration between state and federal agencies is essential.
Harris, who is a Bay Area native and served as a San Francisco district attorney before becoming state attorney general, pointed to California’s strength as a climate leader. But she also underscored how the nation as a whole has a responsibility when it comes to global issues, especially compared to regions such as the Caribbean, which are low emitters of greenhouse gases but pay a high price in the form of extreme weather events and the loss of tourism due to climate change.
“What is our responsibility globally and nationally, and also, how will we, as a global community, ensure that we share resources in a way that benefits the collective? ” she says.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) — who joined environmentalist Leah Thomas, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis to introduce Harris at Tuesday’s event — said California was “on the front lines of the climate crisis. ”
“We must continue to be leaders in climate action,” Huffman said. “We still need big, bold actions to keep pace with climate change.”
Kounalakis welcomed Harris on stage after highlighting California’s major role in taking action on the climate crisis.
“For decades, California has set the gold standard” when it comes to climate action, Kounalakis said. “The policies we set here affect our country and the world.”
Despite the optimism, some Californians in the audience maintained a bit of skepticism. Mullins, the attendee who runs the waste management business, said “it’s too early to tell” whether the Biden-Harris administration has been strong on climate.
“Give them time to figure things out and then we’ll come back at the end and give them a grade,” he said.
Mullins intends to vote for Biden-Harris in 2024.