George Boardman: It’s not easy being green if you’re poor

California’s burning desire (pun intended) to lead the nation’s war on climate change is doing little to ease the burdens of the working class and poorest of the Golden State’s residents. The latest effort to turn California green for the people who can least afford it is a new law […]

California’s burning desire (pun intended) to lead the nation’s war on climate change is doing little to ease the burdens of the working class and poorest of the Golden State’s residents.

The latest effort to turn California green for the people who can least afford it is a new law that will ban the sale of small engines — like those used in mowers, leaf blowers, weed whackers and other landscaping equipment — no later than 2024.

The new law will impact an estimated 500,000 small businesses, but not to worry — the legislation includes all of $30 million to help professional landscapers and gardeners quit using gas-powered equipment.

The sales deadline assumes that battery technology will have advanced to the point where landscapers can make a seamless transfer to greener technology and still service their customers profitably. Of course, the people who supported the legislation won’t suffer the consequences if the technology isn’t ready by 2024.

This changeover will come at a price. Opponents of the law point out that gas-powered riding mowers, which currently cost $7,000 to $10,000, could double in price once the battery versions are the only alternative.

Supporters of the measure cheer the end of intrusive noise on their sensitive ears, while others maintain push mowers and other manual tools can get the job done without the noise and pollution.

That may be the case for the weekend gardener, but it doesn’t pencil out for the landscaper who has to do enough “mow and blow” jobs every day to charge a rate customers will pay and still make a living.

In most of California, that burden will fall on recent immigrants and minorities with an entrepreneurial spirit who are working hard to succeed. When I was growing up in San Mateo in the ’50s, landscaping work was done by Japanese-Americans fresh out of the World War II internment camps.

They worked hard, saved their money, and sent their children to college, who became dentists, lawyers and other professionals. Latinos are now following the same path in San Mateo — if they can get the tools they need to succeed.

This legislation strikes me as another example of well-meaning environmentalists pursuing green mandates with little thought given to the impact they will have on the lives of people farther down the economic ladder. For example:

— Despite the generous rebates, electric cars are still essentially play toys of the affluent. Tesla, which recently hit a market cap of $1 trillion, sells its cheapest model for about $40,000, the cost of the average car being sold in today’s over-heated market. And EV owners don’t pay the gasoline taxes the rest of us fork over to maintain the state’s highways.

— In a state where housing is prohibitively expensive for most people, the push is on to make all new houses electric at a significant cost. Good luck getting that Thanksgiving Day dinner ready when everybody has to count on California’s unreliable electric grid at the same time.

— UC Berkeley researchers have concluded that the spread of rooftop solar panels in the state “has disproportionately shifted cost recovery onto non-solar customers,” and that net metering rules that make utilities buy solar energy that isn’t used is a significant driver of high energy rates.

This lack of noblesse oblige can be found throughout the grand plans of the world’s economic powers to stop the world’s rising temperatures, but developing countries are not going along quietly.

The Group of 77, a coalition of developing countries, points out that most of the Earth’s warming since the industrial era is the result of emissions from the rich countries. Poor nations now face the task of raising living standards without burning fossil fuels unchecked, as rich nations did for almost two centuries.

“If you’re going to ask a much poorer country to forego that option, then there is a moral claim that they need support to go to a lower emissions development pathway,” said Joe Thwaites, a finance expert at the World Resources Institute.

Spokesmen for the poor nations believe aid needed to help them make the transition starts at $750 billion a year, a figure that was greeted with silence by the rich nations when the proposal was made last summer. In fact, they aren’t producing the aid they’ve already pledged.

As part of the 2015 Paris climate accords, rich nations said they would funnel $100 billion a year from 2020 to 2025 to poorer nations to help them transition to greener energy and adapt to the effects of climate change.

But a report released just before the start of the U.N-sponsored climate summit now going on in Scotland said donor nations fell about $20 billion short of hitting the target in 2020 and won’t hit the $100 billion goal until 2023.

Much of the money is supposed to come from the private sector, but major institutional investors appear to be reluctant to fund renewable energy projects in countries they consider to be high risk. For its part, the United States said it will increase its share to $11.4 billion annually by 2024, making us by far the largest contributor.

Without poorer countries on board, the world stands little chance of preventing the catastrophic climate change many scientists are predicting. Emissions in the United States and Europe are falling as both regions embrace renewable energy and phase out coal-fired electricity.

But emissions in the developing world are expected to rise sharply as billions rise out of poverty — unless those countries can shift onto a lower carbon path. They are depending on others to provide the money to do so.

Being green isn’t easy, and it will be expensive.

George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published biweekly on Tuesdays by The Union. Write him at [email protected]

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