In preparation for the approaching Nov. 2 California general election, the Stanford Solar and Wind Energy Project (SWEP) hosted a debate on California Proposition 23 Monday in the Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building.
If passed, Prop. 23 would suspend Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), the Global Warming Solutions Act, which currently mandates that California’s greenhouse gas emissions must return to 1990 levels by 2020. The suspension would remain in effect until the state’s unemployment rate, which was at 12.4 percent as of August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, drops to or below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.
Guest speakers Anita Mangels, communications director for the Yes on 23 campaign, and Miles Barber of the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce spoke in support of the proposition. Stanford professors Larry Goulder, chair of the economics department, and Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere and Energy Program, represented the opposition.
The speakers represented a wide diversity of backgrounds. Mangels focused largely on the economic aspect of the potential suspension of AB 32, citing significant growth of the employment rate and emphasizing that while global warming remains a serious issue, California’s weak economy prevents addressing it at this time.
Barber spoke primarily from the small business viewpoint, having started seven businesses himself. He criticized opponents of Prop. 23 as being overly idealistic, emphasizing the severe disadvantages small businesses would face with the proposition’s overturn.
Goulder spoke about the economy from an academic point of view, citing a study that he chaired that analyzed three major economic models. He concluded that the potential unemployment figures cited by the Yes on 23 campaign were grossly overstated and that California could act as a “laboratory” for climate change policy and could hasten national or international action.
Finally, Jacobson addressed the proposition from a public-health point of view. He made reference to statistics regarding “CO2 domes” over major Californian cities. He cited several studies that show that domes increase ozone and particulate matter (PM) deaths in the United States by 300 to 1,000 per year and that every 10 micrograms of PM per cubic meter reduce lifespan by up to 1.6 years.
“A vote for Prop. 23 is a vote to shorten your own life and to damage the lives of other people in the state,” Jacobson said.
After the panelists spoke and offered their rebuttals, they accepted written questions from the audience.
The debate progressed smoothly, but some students were critical of the speakers’ conventionally political rhetoric.
“I came in relatively uninformed about this issue, and I don’t think the debate changed that too much,” said second-year electrical engineering graduate student Jake Matlick. “The speakers were clearly informed, but I could have done without the emotional and political fluff on both sides of the argument.”
Third-year management science and engineering graduate student Ahren Lacy agreed that the debate lacked direct explanation.
“The speakers gave us plenty of statistics, but not enough context behind them,” he said. “Everyone values their health and the environment. Everyone values their pockets. What we have to decide is whether [Prop. 23] is the most effective way to preserve both.”
Though Matlick’s and Lacy’s criticism of the debate was directed at both sides of the argument, they acknowledged an apparent bias in the audience that seemed to favor the opposition to Prop. 23.
“There was substantially more murmuring while the proponents [of Prop. 23] were speaking,” Lacy said. The audience was much more discontent with [Barber’s] ‘leave us alone’ argument and seemed more comfortable with the academic setting [established by Goulder and Jacobson].”
He acknowledged, however, that a bias among the audience was likely inevitable.
“The average Stanford student is probably wealthier…than the average citizen and would probably be willing to pay a little more for CO2,” he said. “And that’s a perfectly valid point of view.”