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California’s, Fossil Fuel Funded, Climate Crisis

August 16, 2023

Preserving our planet should be a policy goal for all of us, regardless of party, but the reality is a lot more complex due money’s influence in our political system. 

Environmental preservation pre-dates the United States and has continued over the generations. Indigenous people – the first caretakers of this land – began the movement to preserve the environment but were met with deplorable atrocities at the hand of European colonizers. Despite being subject to theft, genocide, slavery, and more, indigenous people still lead the environmental movement today. (cite) As has been the case for centuries, the environmental movement is up against powerful and influential opposition produced from mass industrialization that aims to exploit our land for short-term profits and long-term power. 

California – known for ice capped mountains and tropical beaches, fertile soil, ample wild and marine life – is soon to become the fourth largest economy in the world. It is home to over 70,000 farms that produce two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts (cite). Some of the largest companies in the world base their headquarters in California because of the diversity and greenspaces. Even though these businesses are great for the state’s economy, they also present an ongoing threat to our environment because regulations have not kept up with industrialization and economic growth. 

In the last fifty years, the environmental preservation movement’s goals have evolved as people most impacted by industrial pollution and the climate crisis step into leadership positions. With new leadership, the movement adopted a justice framework – broadly known as environmental justice – to restore communities that have been disproportionately harmed by polluting industries and climate change. Through the movement’s new leadership, transformative legislation has been introduced that would put us on a path to have a environmentally sustainable economy and healthier communities; but on the state and federal level, these efforts have been continuously limited or squashed because fossil fuel and other polluting industries’s lobbyist have cozied up with leaders to limit regulatory efforts. 

In 2022, the fossil fuel industry spent over $124 million lobbying the federal government (cite). As a result – regardless of what party is in control – we witness life-saving environmental justice bills get watered down or defeated, oil pipelines get approved, de- and under-regulation all while the climate crisis gets worse year after year. 

The magnitude of corporate lobbying power in our federal, state, and local governments was recently highlighted by a group named F Minus, which exposes lobbyist influence on government climate change inaction. They recently launched an interactive database that shines a light on how powerful fossil fuel money is in influencing governance. The tool shows that fossil fuel state lobbyists have infiltrated “almost every aspect of American life, spanning local governments, large corporations, cultural institutions such as museums and film festivals, and advocacy groups” (cite) through elevating people into positions where they can directly or indirectly influence regulatory decisions.

In 2022, bills in the California state legislature that would have allowed us to hold polluting corporations accountable, create regulations for safe drinking water, invest in environmental justice communities – along with 20+ other transformative environmental bills – failed to get signed into law (cite). And federally – despite some recent legislative victories – the number of environmental justice bills that pass into law is much higher. 

Californians want leaders to act on climate change as was evident by a recent poll our organization conducted. The 2023 statewide poll found that:

  • a majority of Californians voters know climate change is real (63%),
  • have witnessed the climate crisis get worse over the years (73%),
  • believe that corporations and elected officials (31% and 31%, respectively), hold the most power to address the climate crisis, but
  • see corporations (22%) and government (23%) to be the largest hindrance to address it. 

While lobbyist power and the substantial wealth of corporations may seem impossible for Californians to combat, history and the lessons of other movements show us that our collective power as voters, as protestors, and as active members of our democracy that we can overcome corporate influence through collective action and voting. 

Money matters, but votes matter more. Californians, regardless of party affiliation, are on the same page with preserving our planet, but it’s up to us to make sure that leadership is reflective of this goal.