California, the engine of ecological combat in the United States

14 May 2018

Tim Krantz remembers the days when the air was unbearable in Los Angeles. The sky of the Californian city with six million cars was tinged with orange-yellow, the air stung the eyes and irritated the bronchi ... a painting that has nothing to do with the city of today. " In the 70s, we did not see the mountains for months in a row, "adds the professor of ecology at the University of Redlands. The sanitary emergency was such that the authorities were free to design environmental policies Today, the sky is so clear in Los Angeles that one can contemplate from any point of view the majestic San Gabriel Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean glitters far away from the Hollywood Hills, then The city's population and the number of cars are constantly increasing. This success story "is an example for the world," said Stephanie Pincetl, who teaches environmental science at UCLA University. Clean Air Act (1970), first legislation On the federal anti-pollution front, California has consistently pushed CO2 emissions standards and toxic particles to cars and gasoline, later imitated by the rest of America.While the federal state remained paralyzed by congressional blockages and partisan quarrels, the Southwestern US state "took the lead, first with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and then with (his successor) Jerry Brown," remarks Tim Krantz.Arnie Schwarzenegger has sponsored a major legislation in 2006 aimed at reducing CO2 emissions in 2020 to the 1990 level. Jerry Brown, who will present the California experience at the COP21 conference in Paris, has just ratified a text that raises the bar: from 2030, half of the electricity of the State will have to come from renewable energies. Enough to boost the development of "green" infrastructure. The Palm Springs wind farms should soon be joined by geothermal farms in the desert. Not to mention new high standards for building insulation and efforts to limit pollution in the Port of Los Angeles, the largest on the West Coast. A 2012 cap and trade program for carbon emissions has also significantly reduced coal-based electricity. And since the early 2000s, the "Golden State" has put in place financial incentives to stimulate sales of "green" cars, while forcing car parks to reserve them places of reloading. As a result, California has half of the country's electric or hybrid vehicles. - San Francisco as a banner - The authorities, however, refrain from claiming victory. Los Angeles remains the American metropolis where the air quality is the worst, with a fleet that grows incessantly.And California faces the fourth year of a historic drought, which forced the governor to set binding measures to save 25% of water. Californians have played the game, leaving their lawn yellowing in the sun ... sometimes quit repainting them in green or replace them with cacti, agaves and other plants of the desert. For Debbie Raphael, an environmental manager in San Francisco, the drought "represents a wonderful opportunity to implement the necessary changes", especially in the field of wastewater treatment, rain recovery, rights to rivers and groundwater. If America's most populous state is ahead of the rest of the country, San Francisco is its standard. This pioneering city, which already has a recycling rate of 77% - compared to 65% in Los Angeles - is aiming for zero waste by 2020 thanks to an extensive composting program in which all restaurants participate, or banishing small bottles and plastic packaging. To convince companies to comply with these constraints, the authorities talk to them about the opportunities: the strict environmental standards bring "to California a technological advance that it can sell to the rest of the world", in the automobile, the construction, the energy, remarks Mr. Krantz. But the economic argument is sometimes double-edged. Recycling, attractive when the price of plastic, metal or paper flies, is much less when their prices collapse ... Remains also one of the most difficult tasks: to convince Californians not to put the air conditioning thoroughly. "The buildings at Redlands University are state-of-the-art but in summer, in the middle of the desert, it's like being in a fridge," jokes Krantz.

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