To examine the California initiative, NOVA conducts in-depth interviews with Governor Schwarzenegger, skeptics and supporters of the plan, and ordinary citizens and businesspeople whose lives will change significantly when the new regulations take effect. (Hear more of the interviews with Governor Schwarzenegger, policy critic Marlo Lewis, journalist Vijay Vaitheeswaran, and the presumptive future U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.)
Known as AB 32 (Assembly Bill No. 32), California's 2006 law mandates a statewide rollback of carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and a further 80 percent reduction by 2050—goals also shared by President Obama. If implemented in full, California's effort will be the most ambitious to address global warming by any political entity in the world.
The sense of urgency is acute, because California may be particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. Drought possibly linked to global warming has already resulted in devastating wildfires and chronic water shortages in large sections of the state. California's major population centers are also threatened by rising sea level—another problem linked to increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
NOVA details the three-pronged approach that Governor Schwarzenegger is promoting, which calls for improvements in energy efficiency in homes and commercial buildings; increased reliance on renewable power sources, primarily solar and wind; and major upgrades in car mileage.
Skeptics such as Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute believe that the program will be disastrous for California's economy, as businesses move out of state to escape the inevitable increases in energy costs. NOVA interviews a mattress factory owner near San Diego who is contemplating just that.
Others revel in the challenge, including actor Ed Begley, Jr. and science educator Bill Nye—a.k.a. "Bill Nye the Science Guy." NOVA captures these two Los Angeles neighbors in the midst of a friendly, technology-fueled competition to see who can have the smallest carbon footprint. (Begley and Nye also answer viewers' e-mailed questions about "living green.")
Many of their gadgets are destined to play an important role in California's energy future, including compact fluorescent bulbs, low-energy appliances, solar power cells, and electric vehicles. However, such efficiency upgrades are out of reach for many poorer citizens, who will have to seek subsidies from the state to comply with the new law. (To glimpse the challenges of reducing energy consumption, follow one NOVA staffer in her efforts at Powering Down.)
No one denies that the price tag for AB 32 will be substantial, but state officials argue that the savings from more efficient energy use will mean that the program eventually pays for itself. Furthermore, California's investment in new technologies holds the potential for sparking impressive new economic growth.
In any case, warns Governor Schwarzenegger, the country has run out of time, and it's up to California to act. It's a mission that the former champion bodybuilder relishes: "What power we have to push the United States and the whole world forward!"
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