It took a while for me to make up my mind on Measure P — I politely declined to sign the petition to put the measure on the ballot when approached at Earth Day in April, hoping that the vital public interests the measure intends to protect could be preserved through the legislative process. In general, I prefer addressing important issues of public concern in a more deliberative and nuanced manner than is possible in a ballot initiative.
As the campaign over Measure P has progressed, and as the effort to respond sensibly to the existential threat of climate change continues to be thwarted by the fossil fuel industry and its allies, I have come to realize that a ballot initiative — in which voters are given the opportunity to protect the public interest directly — may be the only way to counter the powerful influence of an industry determined to maximize short-term profits without regard to the collateral damage inflicted upon society and the natural world. I now recognize that Measure P represents the best chance for citizens of Santa Barbara County to “level the playing field” vis-à-vis the power of the fossil fuel industry to ensure that the quality of life we treasure is not compromised in favor of private interests poised to deploy resource-depleting and potentially dangerous techniques simply to increase profits.
Over the past century, our society has invested trillions of dollars in transportation and power generation infrastructure dependent on the combustion of fossil fuels. We now know that the byproducts of combustion — specifically CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) — have tangible costs not included in the prices paid for them, dangerously altering the chemistry of our atmosphere and oceans and imposing a huge ecological debt on future generations. An unassailable scientific consensus exists that it is necessary to quickly and dramatically reduce emissions of GHGs (i.e., by at least 80 percent over 20 years) and leave a large percentage of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we hope to avert potentially catastrophic climate change. In the face of this knowledge, it is clear that our society should replace its aging fossil-fuel dependent infrastructure with infrastructure powered by renewable energy sources as rapidly as possible.
Under these circumstances, the last thing we should be doing is investing in infrastructure to extract additional fossil fuel at a high cost in capital, energy, water, and other precious resources. Instead, we should be using those precious resources to develop renewable energy and to design products and communities to require fewer resources while delivering the highest sustainable standard of living.
Ideally, the formidable scientific, financial, political, and logistical resources the fossil fuel industry has accumulated over the past century by liquidating an irreplaceable natural fossil fuel trust would be productively deployed in helping society meet this existential challenge. Regrettably, rather than embracing the unprecedented opportunity this challenge provides to generate profits long term from the transition to sustainable energy sources, the industry has chosen to spend billions of dollars to confuse the public about the science of climate change and to resist such common-sense policies as requiring the price of its products to include the cost of GHG emissions.
Given the industry’s willingness to mislead the public and to sacrifice the public good for short-term gain and the level of resources it is devoting to oppose reasonable measures aimed at protecting the environment and the public’s long-term health and safety, I urge the citizens of Santa Barbara County to demonstrate that they no longer trust the industry to act in the public interest by voting “yes” on Measure P.