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A growing MFG economy would be a powerful message for CA climate change leadership

Posted by Dorothy Rothrock, President on March 26, 2015

I enjoyed speaking on a climate change panel this week hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).  The topic is important to manufacturers because they are sensitive to high energy costs, and we can expect ever higher energy costs when state climate change rules go into full effect. 
 
Other states are watching to see if the manufacturing economy in California will be hurt under our strict greenhouse gas reduction rules.  They won’t jump on board until they believe it will be good for their economies. That matters because we could take every single molecule of carbon out of the California economy and climate change would still happen.  The climate will improve only if other states and countries adopt significant reduction polices.   
 
My fellow panelists expressed great enthusiasm about our state’s leadership role in this global issue but they downplayed facts on the ground about the state’s economy.  The state is seriously lagging the US in manufacturing job growth since the recession ended. We also have very weak levels of investments for new sites or expansions.  Energy costs play a big part in making California a tough place to be a manufacturer.  
 
I understand the desire to put a positive spin on the climate change story and only make the story about technology advancements and growth in green jobs.   It interrupts a glowing narrative to mention the trade-offs -- potential loss of high wage, middle class manufacturing jobs -- when we indiscriminately add new costs to the economy.  Some groups do not want to raise public awareness about the trade-offs and thereby dampen enthusiasm about addressing climate change.    
 
But if manufacturing continues to suffer in California, other states will be reluctant to adopt similar policies. The states we need to convince have vibrant manufacturing economies with middle class jobs that they do not want to lose. Brushing the manufacturing data under the rug is not fooling anyone outside California – in fact, those state leaders see our failure to acknowledge the economic truths as one more reason to put California in the “kooky” category and shy away from joining our programs to reduce emissions.  
 
 A question that should have been asked at the PPIC event was “How can California inspire other states and countries to adopt our policies to reduce climate emissions?”  My answer would have been:  “Don’t deny the costs of the policies, take action to minimize those costs, and then make a commitment to prove with facts and data that a healthy manufacturing economy is, and will be, supported by our climate change policies.”  
 
That approach has a chance of putting California in a true leadership position on climate change.  
 
 
 
 
 




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