Climate Scientists Call on Jerry Brown to End Oil Extraction in California

There is no way to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement if California continues extracting oil and gas unabated, according to a group of scientists.
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Car lights streak past an oil rig in Culver City, California.

Car lights streak past an oil rig in Culver City, California.

On Thursday, over two dozen climate scientists sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, urging him to phase out oil and gas production in the state before the start of the Global Climate Action Summit, a climate-focused conference in September. The letter endorses earlier calls from more than 800 organizations and 100 local elected officials across the state for Brown to put an end to fossil fuel extraction in California, which is one of the nation's top oil-producing states.

Brown has been roundly praised in recent years for his climate leadership, especially as the Trump administration has scaled back federal efforts to both combat and prepare for climate change. Just yesterday, the California Air Resources Board released data showing that California had met its goal of reducing emissions below 1990 levels four years early. But there's little time to celebrate if we are to stave off the worst effects of climate change going forward, according to Shaye Wolf, the climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity and one of the letter's 26 signatories.

"The state climate targets for 2020, 2030, and 2050 are not strong enough to meet the Paris Agreement's climate goals," Wolf says, referencing the landmark accord that calls on nations to limit warming to two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. "California has to do more, and we have to do more fast."

The climate scientists' letter notes that the Paris Agreement's target will be impossible to meet if oil and gas production continues unabated around the globe—and as the sixth-largest economy in the world, California is uniquely positioned to lead the way on a future without fossil fuels. "There is more than enough carbon in the world’s already developed, operating oil, gas, and coal fields globally to exceed 2°C," the letter states. "Thus, there is simply no room in the carbon budget for any new fossil fuel extraction."

While California has focused most of its effort on reducing fossil fuel consumption, the state has no plan to limit production. Indeed, since Brown took office again in 2011 (following his first stint from 1974 to 1982), the state's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources has issued permits for more than 20,000 oil and gas wells across the state.

Even more concerning, according to Wolf, is that roughly 8,500 active wells in the state are within half a mile of neighborhoods. "A lot of California's oil and gas drilling occurs in our neighborhoods, next to schools and homes and hospitals, and a lot of studies show how damaging oil and gas drilling is for people's health," Wolf says. Living near oil operations poses many health risks, among them an increased risk for cancer, respiratory illnesses, and birth defects.

Shutting down those 8,500 wells and phasing out new extraction permits would reduce emissions by some 425 million metric tons over the next 12 years, the letter notes.

"It's the governor's last year in office," Wolf says, "and in order to show true climate leadership he has to confront California's own dirty oil extraction."

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