California, home of the Sierra Club, has a long history of environmentalism. Caring about our natural surroundings is part of our DNA, Governor Gavin Newsom recently proclaimed, surrounded as we are by the soaring Sierras to our east, the unruly Pacific coast to our west, and the nation’s largest agricultural lands. Many of us, for a long time, have worried about climate change.
Ours is a large and complex state, however, and our record in leading on these matters is not as clear as one might expect.
Over the past two years, three of the biggest fires in the state’s history have occurred, scorching 2.7 million acres, with no meaningful corrective action taken to prevent the next one (the dangers of which we see every day from the reports from Australia, where the fires are more than time times larger than our recent burns). Our leading power provider PG&E is bankrupt for the second time in its history. The state government is actively fighting the Trump administration to preserve its ability to set its own fuel standards—and, at the same time, with itself, as certain factions from both parties resist an executive order issued by Governor Newsom this fall to divert $5 billion in annual transportation funds to projects that would “help reverse the trend of fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Interestingly—and ironically—a relatively quiet player in climate-focused advancement has been Silicon Valley—a place that for 40 years has been the envy of the world as a profoundly productive and reliable source of innovation on so many dimensions of commerce, from how companies are formed to how they ultimately prosper. The National Venture Capital Association has taken no position—positive or negative—on ESG standards or any other aspect of impact measurement.
We shall see what happens next. The innovation of many kinds from the Golden State will undoubtedly be a factor as we all work to tackle this urgent problem. But that innovation may come in unexpected ways, and occasionally from following the leadership of others.