Green Summit Prepares Environmentalists for 2011

Dec 16, 2010
By Warner Chabot

This year’s 6th Annual Green California Summit was the biggest, most successful Green California Summit ever. More than 240 individuals representing dozens of environmental, environmental justice, labor, clean energy business, public health, economic and social justice groups gathered at the Sacramento Convention Center on December 6th at an event organized by the California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

Participants heard from elected officials, pollsters and other experts and strategized in break-out sessions about the community’s priorities in the coming year.

Finally, at the evening reception that followed the Summit, attendees celebrated both new alliances and a renewed sense of optimism that will propel them in the coming challenging year.

See photos from the event:

Several important themes emerged during the day, from speakers on various panels as well as participants. The first is excitement about the results of the recent election, in which environmental champions swept the top of the ticket races and a ballot proposition to repeal California’s landmark climate and clean energy law went down in stunning defeat, thanks to a coalition that involved the vast majority of organizations represented at the Summit.

The second theme was concern about California’s and the nation’s continuing economic woes, the passage of Prop 26 which will restrict future funding for environmental programs, and the impact of the staggering state budget deficit on the community’s ability to advance a strong environmental agenda that helps the state transition to a clean energy future.

Senator Alex Padilla put it this way his remarks to attendees: “The rest of the nation and world is watching California. It’s an audacious challenge: how we can we get California’s fiscal house in order while transitioning to clean energy economy? If we get it right we’ll have shown it’s possible, and others will follow. If we get it wrong, some of the air will be let out of the balloon, and that’s not something I want to risk.”

Padilla’s fellow legislator, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, emphasized the seriousness of the budget challenge and strongly recommended that the community get out of its comfort zone in the coming year – both on selecting bill authors who aren’t the usual suspects (like herself), in developing creative alliances to get bills to move forward, and in finding creative solutions to the barriers that slow California’s transition to a clean energy economy.

Speakers including E2 co-founder Bob Epstein, No on Prop 23 co-chair Tom Steyer, and Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino issued a call for more bipartisan and inclusive approaches to environmental protection. They were joined by Pete Price from the office of Assembly Speaker John Perez in urging participants to find more ways to move beyond playing defense to find ways to say “yes” to proposals and projects that create economic opportunity and jobs for Californians while advancing the goals of the environmental community.

Chair of the California Energy Commission Karen Douglas asked for the community’s help in communicating about the state’s clean energy programs in order to make them more visible to stakeholders outside of government and indeed, outside of California. As Steyer said: “The way I think about it: It’s like religion. You can either preach to people or share the good news. First we need to succeed and then we need to share the good news.”

Panelist Ian Kim from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights took a literal victory lap in honor of crushing Prop 23 and shared data that showed “if not for people of color, we would not be celebrating the fact that California is the firewall against the conservative national tide” in the recent election. Fellow panelist Cesar Diaz from the State Building and Construction Trades Council reminded participants that the labor community has many shared goals with the environmental community.

Two examples he cited were: 1) making sure that working families benefit from the anticipated clean energy transition and 2) that jobs are created from projects like infill, renewable energy development and high speed rail that will also serve to reduce dependence on fossil fuels to achieve the goals of AB 32.

Lieutenant Governor-elect Gavin Newsom provided local examples of green economic success from San Francisco; he was followed by National League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski, who provided the national perspective on the year ahead. Theirs were two very different but complimentary presentations on how to build on and achieve further environmental progress.

Breakout sessions covered topics as diverse as renewable energy and infill development, transportation policy environmental/labor alliance, and coping with Proposition 26. Finally attendees regrouped and I moderated a discussion about next steps and effective advocacy in 2011 with Sierra Club California’s Bill Magavern, Martha Guzman-Aceves from the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Ann Notthoff from the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Dan Jacobson from Environment California.

The Summit provided a variety of options for how the Green California network--which represents more than 70 unique California organizations--will work effectively in the year ahead. This year’s summit provided a solid  starting point that included personal connections and positive energy to kick-start what promises to be an incredibly challenging yet potentially rewarding year for environmental advocates.

- Warner Chabot, CE0, California League of Conservation Voters



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