The Frontal Cortex

California, The Model

I like Paul Krugman’s column today for two reasons.
1) He works in a nice allusion to Chomsky. His headline is “Colorless Green Ideas“.
2) He makes an important point about California and energy conservation:

Let me tell you about a real-world example of an advanced economy that has managed to combine rising living standards with a substantial decline in per capita energy consumption, and managed to keep total carbon dioxide emissions more or less flat for two decades, even as both its economy and its population grew rapidly. And it achieved all this without fundamentally changing a lifestyle centered on automobiles and single-family houses.

The name of the economy? California.

There’s nothing heroic about California’s energy policy — but that’s precisely the point. Over the years the state has adopted a series of conservation measures that are anything but splashy. They’re the kind of drab, colorless stuff that excites only real policy wonks. Yet the cumulative effect has been impressive, if still well short of what we really need to do.

The energy divergence between California and the rest of the United States dates from the 1970s. Both the nation and the state initially engaged in significant energy conservation after that decade’s energy crisis. But conservation in most of America soon stalled: after a decade of rapid progress, improvements in auto mileage came to an end, while electricity consumption continued to rise rapidly, driven by the growing size of houses, the increasing use of air-conditioning and the proliferation of appliances.

In California, by contrast, the state continued to push policies designed to encourage conservation, especially of electricity. And these policies worked.


  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    February 23, 2007

    There are so many other things we can learn from California as well, such as: don’t build on a seismically active zone, or in an area prone to brush fires or mud slides. If you build more freeways, mor people will fill them with more cars. The lessons of California abound.

  2. #2 Toaster Sunshine
    February 23, 2007

    California has done well with energy conservation, but I remember hearing a couple years ago about a crisis of rolling blackouts throughout California. Is that still happening? Or have they added new capacity to their grid? And if so, in what form is the new energy coming from?
    At some point, however, I think that California, especially the whole LA, San Diego traffic mess, is going to have to take heroic action and build a comprehensive public transport system. Those 12-lane highways getting as backed up as they are is unsustainable.

  3. #3 bigTom
    February 23, 2007

    I moved to Calif after the power crisis was over. There hasn’t been a repeat, although rates are high partly because of expensive long term contracts signed during the panic. there were a lot of localized blackouts during last summers heat-wave, although these were at the end of the distribution system (neighborhood transformers etc.) rather than the large scale production/distribution. Yes some of the conservation happened in response to the panic, I think the states consumers learned to use something like 8% less during that crisis.
    The state gets something like 20-30% from renewables, although the biggest chunk of this is imported hydro from Washington/Oregon. One of the reasons we haven’t had a power crunch is because we have had good
    precipitation years recently. This years snowpack is only around 50% of normal, so we will see if we can make it through the coming season.