Maybe it was the holiday strikes of 2019, when the kids walked out, telling their parents and the world that they had nothing to be thankful for and what they wanted for Christmas was a planet they could live on. Or maybe it was the unbearable hot, smoky August and September and October and the pictures of that fire raging through that school. Maybe the politicians finally listened to the polls saying that Californians were desperate to address climate change. But there were no real protests when Governor Newsom declared a statewide emergency and unveiled his shocking climate plan. People were prepared by the analogy to the WWII homefront, and were ready to do their part the way their grandparents did. It would take the rest of the decade to ramp up, but by the last few years, the benefits were already paying off.
The State stopped making it worse. Oil and gas extraction ended on Day 1. (When the oil companies sued for takings, the State seized their properties and CARB instituted a retroactive carbon absorption fee for California’s atmosphere.) Permitting for development in floodplains, wildfire areas and on the coast was immediately halted and cities that weren’t creating new dense housing lost their land use authority. The State imposed shocking gas taxes, and returned the proceeds to the poorest half of Californians. The ag districts in the SWP were immediately shut down, as were any dairies with more than a couple hundred cows.
Major research programs were begun. Google and Facebook began a program to create carbon budgets for every person, measured and traded by phone. The weapons industry was told to do something useful for a change, and develop carbonless aviation and shipping.
California immediately designated five new future UC campuses, in Visalia, Redding, Camp Roberts, Ventura and Fresno. It began building out residences for 40,000 people at each new campus. For the first decade, however, the future campuses would house refugees who wanted to earn California citizenship by doing four years of paid climate labor.
The potential work was endless. Fighting fires. Installing solar panels. Planting urban trees. Building housing. Installing cooling centers and pools. Clearing dead trees in the Sierras. Building up sheep and goat grazing stocks to clear fire fuels. Moving levees back from rivers; restoring riparian habitats. Restoring tule marsh in the Delta, island by island. Building high speed rail. California was lucky to absorb tens of thousands of refugees and their families each year, willing to work for pay, education and state citizenship.
These early years felt hard. The hits kept coming: the heat waves, the fires, the drought. The disruption of construction on every block. People scrambled as long commutes became too expensive, but new housing close to work wasn’t built yet. The Olds hated the changes, talked about how everything used to be cheaper. The Youngs, though, just felt relieved that maybe they had a chance.
By years 4 and 5, the building spree was beginning to pay off. Dorms and family housing at the five new campuses were nearly complete; the academic buildings were starting to go up. Throughout the state, the ex-urban fringes were emptying out, moving into town. People talked about their old commutes like a horror movie. Electricity from renewables, at least, was cheap and plentiful. People were adjusting to their personal carbon budgets, clamoring for the app to recognize the carbon sequestration in their backyard compost. The first group of refugees finished their four years of service. Many stayed on, working the jobs they knew, in the places they had built. Others moved throughout the state, glad that they had had a stable transition. There were always more coming behind, hoping to fill their spaces.
The habitat work continued, led by Tribes, building on itself. California set up a food security regime, creating an agricultural zone on three million acres of its best soils and most robust water sources, growing food for direct human consumption. CA would ensure this land would get water in the driest years. Other previous ag land was transitioned to sequestering carbon or solar power.
It was about year 6 that people started to notice that things had stopped getting worse every year. They had heatwaves, but everyone could get to cold water to cool off and mostly everyone had air conditioning powered by solar. In year 6, instead of losing an additional town to fire every year, CA lost no towns to fire. The fuels management, grazing and intentional burns, and the new building codes were starting to catch up. By good luck (and good choices when the project was selected) when the flood came, it was held within the new setback levees, where it sat, recharging groundwater for six months into the summer. (The mosquitos were horrendous, but it was better than being washed away.)
The carbon sequestration/habitat restoration projects were really starting to settle in and complexify. People began to accept that they were the work of many lifetimes, and each of the new UCs had departments dedicated to the study of local restoration. Even these newly restored habitats were doing their jobs; seagrasses were reversing beach erosion and softening waves. Soils were re-gaining their organic content and holding more water; rivers were finding their old meanders and re-connecting to groundwater. The State proudly displayed their ticker of Total Carbon Sequestered on all of their websites.
The unceasing urban building boom in the most robust areas was finally catching up to demand. Housing was affordable, if smaller than before, and there were vacancies for incoming climate refugees. All urban power had been renewable for a couple years. The newly dense cities were also growing niche enterprises and becoming intricate. The trees planted ten years ago were starting to give useful shade. Micro-sequestration was the gardening fad. The State kept its promise and turned all five campuses into U.C.’s; tuition was free to all who had helped build them.
The upfront costs had been staggering, but by the end of the decade, they looked like a good investment. The news was no longer a weekly bludgeon of natural disasters. In fact, there was a steady stream of stories about species saved from the brink of extinction. Californians didn’t cough through smoke for two months in the Fall; the costs of fire management had leveled off. The Big Flood hadn’t incurred any response expenses; it had become an asset. The states who hadn’t prepared were now desperately asking for federal emergency money, but that had been long overwhelmed.
Mostly, people were used to it. The Olds resented how expensive meat and wine had gotten and missed their cars. But some found the low-carbon lifestyle familiar. It reminded them of a time with less stuff but better neighborhood life. The Youngs were used to living in dense cities; happy they could own their own place. Their kids ran free in carless streets. A huge portion of their cohort had been part of the restoration projects and were forever attached to the trees, grasses and sea marshes they had planted. The worldwide need was still desperate, but California had shown people what could be done with a population willing to fight the emergency on every front.
UPDATE: This is bad form for a blog, but I am still tinkering with the post. If you think you notice small changes, you are likely right.