Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday took to a stage in Santa Rosa before a crowd of leading North Bay environmentalists to tout activism and government policies that have made California a global leader in the green economy.
“California is a climate of hope. If you don’t like the way the world looks when you’re standing up, stand on your head, because remarkable things are happening at the local level,” Newsom said.
The former San Francisco mayor is a leading contender among Democrats running to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown next year. He gave the keynote address at Sonoma County Conservation Action’s “Grassroots Gala,” an annual event that honors local environmental leaders.
His remarks came after a tumultuous couple of weeks for the United States on the global stage, punctuated by President Donald Trump’s announcement he would pull the country, the world’s largest historic emitter of climate warming gases, out of the landmark Paris agreement on climate change.
Newsom pushed back on Trump’s contention that pivoting toward a fossil fuel-free world would irretrievably harm the U.S. economy.
“What is so wrong about de-carbonizing your economy? What’s so wrong about what California’s done? Seven years, 2.7 million jobs, 2.9 percent GDP (growth),” he said. “You remember that Goldilocks budget that Trump announced two weeks ago? It’s predicated on 3 percent growth and everyone says that’s not achievable — I say hold on, come out to California. It’s absolutely achievable.”
For many in the room, Newsom’s comments reflected the emergence of a new generation of environmental leaders pushing a movement that seeks alliances with industry. The growth and success of the renewable energy sector, they say, shows the environmental movement can both save the planet and create jobs.
“The environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who was on hand Saturday evening at the Friedman Center.
The state’s economic output grew by $42.3 billion in the first three quarters of 2016, McGuire noted. He said it took Florida and New York all year to achieve that amount of growth.
“California has a strong economy and we’re leading the world in environmental issues,” McGuire said. “It’s no longer mutually exclusive. It’s what you have to do to be successful.”
Dennis Rosatti, Conservation Action’s immediate past executive director and the recipient Saturday of the group’s Bill Kortum Innovative Leader Award, praised Newsom’s record on the environment.
“This guy was working on green building and energy efficiency in San Francisco before it was even a thing,” said Rosatti, now a consultant focusing on parks, composting and the marijuana industry.
Kerry Fugett, Conservation Action’s new executive director, said she appreciated Newsom’s belief that grass-roots environmental activism is a crucial buffer to national policies that seek to turn back the clock on the movement.
“Everyone in this room is a leader,” she said.
Among those honored at the gala were Caryl Hart, former head of Sonoma County Regional Parks, for her efforts to expand access and funding for parks; June Moes, a Sonoma County activist who spearheaded a move to stop the highway construction over Spring Lake in Santa Rosa 30 years ago; Jazmín Gudiño, a Roseland resident who has tried to bridge the gap between socioeconomic justice and the environmental movement; and Teri Shore, the North Bay regional director of Greenbelt Alliance who for more than two decades has led efforts to protect open space and encourage smart growth in the North Bay.