‘Stop Mega Comcast’ Coalition Aims to Block Time Warner Cable Merger

Variety
by Cynthia Littleton

A clutch of public interest groups, unions and media companies including Dish Network and Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze have formed the “Stop Mega Comcast” coalition to advocate against federal approval of the $45 billion cable merger.

The group spearheaded by the non-profit org Public Knowledge said it would focus on blocking the union of the nation’s two largest cable operators outright because “no set of conditions can address the substantial harms that will be caused by the merger.” The strident opposition to the merger by the coalition members is nothing new, but the Stop Mega Comcast forum may amplify their arguments at a time when there’s growing speculation about the possibility that regulators will reject the deal.

In announcing the effort, the group listed familiar concerns about the merger, including the fact that the combined company would control nearly 50% of the broadband service in the U.S. — although Comcast maintains the figure is 35%. Broadband is a hot button for regulators at a time when the FCC is evaluating its net neutrality policies. Comcast has said it would abide by the FCC’s net neutrality rules that were put in place several years ago, even though a federal appeals court struck them down in January.

Comcast described the coalition as comprised of “self-interested opponents” with competitive motivations for seeking to block the merger.

“Hundreds of community organizations, programmers, lawmakers and diversity groups have praised the pro-consumer benefits of this transaction. It is no secret that some companies that want billions of dollars in higher fees for consumers are paying lobbying firms to organize against this transaction,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s VP of government communications. “This minority of self-interested opponents has used the same tactics in our past deals, and their claims were not found to be credible by the expert agencies. We believe the same will be true here.”

The Writers Guild of America West is among the industry orgs in the coalition, along with the Consumer Federation of America, Greenlining Institute, Parents Television Council, Sports Fan Coalition, WeatherNation TV, FairPoint Communications, Future of Music Coalition, Hargray Communications and NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

In a conference call with reporters, execs with the various orgs emphasized that the combined Comcast-TW Cable would have a dangerous amount of “gatekeeper” control over aspects of the media and entertainment marketplace. They pointed to Comcast’s track record in fighting a condition of its 2011 NBCUniversal takeover — the stipulation that it carry Bloomberg TV in the same “neighborhood” as its own biz channel CNBC — as a sign that conditions would not be strong enough to police the company’s power.

Ellen Stutzman of the WGA West said flatly that Comcast, through its cable and studio divisions, would have “unprecedented” power over programming, which would ultimately mean that “writers would have fewer outlets to sell to, and they’d be paid less to create and innovate.”

The group has launched a website and plans to meet with officials at the FCC and Justice Department as they hunker down on the review of the merger, which was unveiled in February. Gene Kimmelman, prexy-CEO of Public Knowledge, also noted that they feel momentum is on their side as in the past few months there has been growing speculation that the deal will be nixed entirely or saddled with so many conditions that it becomes unattractive to Comcast.

“The conversation has been different in the last month or two,” Kimmelman said. “The concerns we want to raise could fall on receptive ears at the enforcement agencies.”

Lynne Costantini of TheBlaze said the nature of the questions that have been asked of merger opponents by FCC and Justice Dept. staffers indicates that they are grappling with the issues raised by the size and scope of Comcast post-merger. “This is not a run-of-the-mill review. They’re thinking about this in new and different ways,” she said.

The coalition cited Comcast’s overwhelming market share in the traditional cable biz as well as its size as a programmer through NBCUniversal. Other areas of concern cited were the sway that the enlarged Comcast would have to provide the broadband for connected consumer devices; the market share it would command in local cable advertising; and the impact of its size in markets with high concentrations of minority viewers.

The org’s media strategy is being handled by D.C.-based Glover Park Group, the communications firm known for its work on politically charged issues and regulatory fights such as Comcast’s 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal.

“All of the Tools in Our Tool Belt.” A Community Foundation Steps Up its Impact Investing

Inside Philanthropy
By Alyssa Ochs

Impact investing is one of the hottest topics in institutional philanthropy right now. And while private foundations have tended to be on the leading edge of this movement, a growing number of community foundations have been jumping into impact investing or ramping up existing efforts. The latest example is the San Francisco Foundation, which last month announced a $50 million commitment for an investment pool aimed at generating positive social and financial returns. That sum represents 6.3 percent of the foundation’s $800 million endowment.

We’ve written often in recent years about TSFF’s move to put racial and economic equity at the center of its work. It has emerged as an early adopter of a strategy that’s been gaining traction across the foundation world. TSFF Vice President of Programs Judith Bell told us last year that the foundation is “all in” on equity and is looking to expand its civic leadership and elevate the foundation’s voice on key equity issues.

That commitment has been clear in TSFF’s work on housing affordability. The foundation and its president, Fred Blackwell, have been playing a critical role is galvanizing a stronger public-private response. (Which is why IP named Blackwell “Foundation President of the Year” in our 2018 IPPYs).

Given its ambitious equity agenda, it’s not surprising that TSFF is putting aside some serious new cash for impact investing. As we’ve often discussed, the daunting scale of key equity challenges—especially the affordable housing crisis—requires far greater resources than what’s available through traditional grantmaking. The momentum behind impact investing, which has been growing for years, is further fueled by a mounting sense of urgency among funders grappling with entrenched equities in top metro areas like San Francisco. Dipping into the “other 95 percent” of capital that foundations control is one way to step up the fight.

“The scope and complexity of the issues that we are trying to address in the Bay Area require us to use all of the tools in our tool belt,” said Blackwell in announcing TSFF’s new investment fund. “We see investing in a values-aligned manner as part of how we achieve our overall mission, and we don’t think we have to sacrifice returns.”

TSFF is no newcomer to impact investing—in fact, the funder’s first loan program kicked off in 1989, before impact investing was even a thing. Yet recent surveys show that only about 17 percent of foundations are pursuing impact investing strategies today, which means that funders like TSFF are still in the minority. Meanwhile, there remain serious questions about whether it’s really so smart for foundations to use their endowment capital in this way.

The term impact investing can be fuzzy, describing a range of approaches by foundations looking to align their endowments more closely with their missions. That’s clear in the way TSFF describes impact investing on its website, and in its March announcement of the new fund—which it says will be composed “of a diversified portfolio of managers using a variety of impact investment and socially responsible strategies, including social screens and environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.” It’s not clear yet how much of the $50 million fund will be available for, say, investing in affordable housing projects.

But the new commitment comes on the heels of TSFF’s move last year to put aside $10 million for the Bay Area Community Impact Fund for loans to local nonprofit organizations and social enterprises. Before that, TSFF approved a $500,000 program-related investment loan to the Greenlining Institute to renovate its downtown Oakland headquarters in 2015 and set aside $5 million to make other loans to nonprofits in the Bay Area in 2009.

Reflecting a growing push among foundations, TSFF also said in its March announcement that it’s looking to work with investment firms owned by people of color and women. And it’s steering clear of controversial investments, such as fossil fuel companies, tobacco companies and private prisons. Donors who have set up donor-advised funds at TSFF also have the opportunity to grow the new impact investing pool. According to foundation estimates, the targeted risk-adjusted return for the investment pool is between 7 and 8 percent.

Together with its donors, TSFF gave $154 million to nonprofits last fiscal year to serve Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.

“American Revolutionary” – Style Dialogue

Center for Asian American Media
by Nicole Wong

Film has a unique way of bringing people together to provide a common context to discuss pressing issues and concerns that affect our lives every day. Last Thursday evening, over one hundred people gathered at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC) to watch the documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs by Grace Lee. Hosted by OACC, the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Active VoicePOVThe Greenlining Institute and The World Café, the goal of the screening was not just to offer a free screening—the film premieres on PBS’ POV series next Monday June 30th—but also to spark cross-issue collaboration, where activists who focus on different issues can see the benefits of working together, increasing connections, and supporting each others’ work. Drawing from the perspectives of the various co-sponsoring organizations, the event was geared toward channeling the post-screening energy toward conversations that support critical thinking, personal reflection, and community building.

Encountering the revolutionary vision of Grace Lee Boggs is the kind of event that transforms you. American Revolutionary is the story of the 99-year-old Chinese American writer, philosopher and Detroit activist whose vision of revolution has inspired many generations. Rooted in the African American movement in Detroit for more than 70 years, Boggs has devoted her life to developing an understanding of “revolution” that brings together the contradictions of America’s past with its potentially radical future. This film plunges us into Boggs’s lifetime of vital thinking and action, traversing the major U.S. social movements of the last century—from labor to civil rights, to Black Power, feminism, the Asian American and environmental justice movements and beyond. Director Grace Lee unfolds these histories and philosophies with humor and attentive detail, while presenting an intimate portrait of Boggs—so much so that you feel like you’ve actually been in conversation with her.

And in fact, conversation and dialogue was at the heart of both the film and this preview screening. In the film, Boggs urges us that we need to spend more time reflecting, and that new ideas are born out of conversation. Active Voice has worked with local partners and experienced dialogue experts from World Café to design the events so that attendees can experience this first-hand. Thursday’s event was the first of three modeled in this particular way. Two other screenings and dialogues are this week on Tuesday, June 24th in New York City, hosted by The Malcom X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center and this Friday, June 27th in Chicago, hosted by Hull House.

Thursday’s event at OACC, located in the heart of Oakland’s Chinatown, drew a cross-generational crowd of people working on a multitude of community issues. All came with an interest in the film, and the dialogue that followed, facilitated by World Café’s Cherine Badawi, encouraged attendees to speak candidly about their reactions to the film as well as the work they are doing locally. The audience was split into small groups for discussion, creating a unique level of intimacy among people who’d just met for the first time, responding together to questions like: what conversation, if explored together, would make the biggest difference to our community?

In my small group, we huddled together at a table in the low light, jazz playing in the background through the speakers. Brown butcher paper lined the tables, with paper cups filled with markers on every table, and we were encouraged to doodle and draw and be inspired by the conversations. At my table, a Berkeley undergrad discussed his commitment to public education and broadening the access to Asian American narratives in curriculum. A Greenlining Institute staff member talked about his organization’s racial justice policy work. A woman who works at the Oakland Museum of California told us about what’s currently on display and how the museum’s commitment to community and accessibility continue to drive them forward. And one woman discussed how her own activism in the 1960s has shaped her life experiences. At the end, we were given post-it notes to write our takeaways and ask a question we wanted to carry on thinking about and talking about. It was a unique conversation, primed by the moving story we’d just watched, that would not have happened in any other context.

In a time when important work can get trapped within issue silos, American Revolutionary is a great film to spark meaningful conversations, and this event provided space to do just that. Just as Grace Lee Boggs says in the film, that “we are the leaders we are looking for,” dialogue like this helps us grow, embrace and sustain ourselves—and our communities.

“Grade Inflation” Widespread in CRA Reviews, Greenlining Institute Charges

Contact:
Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 510-926-4022415-846-7758 (cell)

WASHINGTON – Federal bank regulators increasingly look the other way when major banks’ CRA reviews show low performance on lending, investments or services, allowing bank mergers that aren’t in the public interest to proceed, The Greenlining Institute charged in a letter just sent to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg.

“Some regulators seem to see the banking world as being just like Lake Wobegon, where ‘all the children are above average,’” said Greenlining Institute Executive Director Orson Aguilar. “We’re seeing grade inflation that could render CRA evaluations meaningless if it’s allowed to continue. Banks with such weak records on community lending and investment shouldn’t be allowed to merge without tough conditions.”

Greenlining’s letter cites the recently approved purchase of CapitalSource, which had a record of strong CRA performance, by PacWest Bancorp, which has had a weak record. PacWest, which received “low satisfactory” ratings on lending, investment and services, still received an overall rating of “satisfactory” and was approved to swallow CapitalSource without being required to meet commitments to improve. The letter points out several other examples in which banks’ “low satisfactory” evaluations in multiple areas still led to an overall rating of “satisfactory.”

In the letter, Greenlining urges Yellen and Gruenberg to take several steps, including holding public hearings on all bank mergers, increasing transparency regarding CRA evaluations, and publicly affirming their intent to hold banks to a higher standard than barely-adequate performance.

###

THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE
A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

greenlining.org

“Oakland Reconstructed” Panels Dig into Development Issues

Oakland Local

Impact Hub Oakland is shaping to be a mobilizing ground for Oakland’s alter-gentrificationists: the people who don’t want to see the city’s development driven solely by profit motives.

The town hall event last Wednesday, Oakland Reconstructed, sought to define the role and responsibilities of developers in the city’s crisis of displacement through a group panel and discussion.

While the conversation conducted bolts of disagreement throughout the crowd whenever someone spoke too favorably about welcoming developers in order to bolster our tax base or, on the other side of the debate, obstructing all development and sealing Oakland off to new residents, there was nonetheless an encouraging sense that a collective path forward was being charted and that the community was ready to step up and organize.

The first panel of the evening featured Jeremy Liu, a non-profit manager-turned-real estate developer with heart; Jahmese Myers of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and Orson Aguilar, the ED of the Greenlining Institute, which develops policies to reverse institutionalized racism. The panel, moderated by Calvin Williams of the Urban Strategies Council, focused on the sneakier forms of redlining that manage to persist in a world where the outright practice is disavowed.

According to Calvin Williams, over 10,000 of the city’s homes have been foreclosed since 2007. 42% of those foreclosures were bought -usually with cash- by real estate investment firms, and most end up diced into rental units. Of the houses that were bought by investors, 93% were in low-income, flat land neighborhoods. “Homeownership is often the difference between keeping your family in the working-middle class, and not,” said Williams. “All those homes represent families that were there and are now being replaced by people who have to rent.”

To this, Myers added that of the jobs lost in the recession, 60% were middle wage, “since the recovery those have been replaced, almost one-to-one, with low wage jobs.” This is the period many have been calling Oakland’s “revitalization.”

While there are many policy ideas aimed at bolstering homeowners and mom and pop landlords in this competitive and predatory real estate market, the panel spent quite a bit of time sharing personal testimonies. Urban Strategies Council, for example, has argued that city government could push banks to expand programs that give owner-occupiers and nonprofits a “first look” at foreclosures before they go up for auction. Given the qualifications of the panelists, the discussion was a bit wanting for actionable specifics like these.

However, props were given to Causa Justa for their recent advocacy victory which changed the law to limit landlords’ abilities to raise rent to pay for capital improvements. The crowd made a big show of support for the organization’s upcoming November ballot measure to target unfair eviction practices.

“We don’t have redlining the way we used to, of course,” said Jeremy Liu, “instead we have it built into the spread sheets and the pro formas and the financial analysis and the decisions about where you put, for example, car sharing pods in the city.”

Alan Dones, the developer and outspoken critic of racist, discriminatory, practices in Oakland, took up these ideas in the next panel. “It really bugs me when people talk about the new bars and the fancy restaurants– that’s not real revitalization.”

Dones and his co-panelist, developer Mike Ghielmetti, both have reputations for being exceptions to the ‘big, bad developer’ rule. However, while Dones was eager to declaim the city’s contracting practices, Ghielmetti was more positive.

He pointed out aspects of Oakland’s “revitalization” that everyone has benefitted from, such as improved OUSD test scores. “But, listen, this is above our pay grade. I like to build stuff, but I don’t know policy, I’m not running for mayor.”

What Ghielmetti does know, he says, is that “projects that are low-risk and high-return get done. Projects that are high-risk and low return only happen because the right people come together and want to get behind them.” This, Ghielmetti explains, is why Starbucks or even Blue Bottle proliferates while independent businesses or unconventional ventures like the Hub (which Ghielmetti developed) have such a hard time getting contracts. The city has to do everything it can to facilitate those ventures, argued Ghielmetti, “or else Starbucks will get the contract 80% of the time.”

As Oakland becomes more attractive to developers, the city should be in a much better position to negotiate on its own behalf and secure community benefits and local hire requirements, Dones and Ghielmetti agreed. They sang the virtues of innovative “public-private partnerships,” a term that someone from the audience then accused them of using as a euphemism for government subsidies.

“I am baffled as to why we are even asking developers to solve this problem,” said the same critical audience member, “they are the problem.”

Dones responded to this by doubling down on his rhetoric. A verbal survey of Oakland’s history of discrimination and disinvestment in people of color culminated in Dones making a call to repeal prop 13. This was met with applause.

The event concluded with many shows of thanks and love from the audience and hosts alike.

Hopefully, the Hub will continue to draw on and organize community energy as big political decisions go down.

“Too Big to Fail” Also Applies to Health Care

Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

We hear a lot about “too-big-to-fail” banks, and rightly so. It’s time to bring that same discussion to health insurance.

Most Americans first learned about too-big-to-fail when financial industry recklessness crashed our economy, causing an avalanche of foreclosures and throwing millions out of work. With health care now making up 17 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and affecting literally every one of us, it’s time to worry about concentration in the health insurance marketplace.

Many have sounded alarm bells over the fact that the five biggest U.S. banks nowcontrol nearly half the market. In comparison, America’s four largest health insurerscontrolled 83 percent of the market as of 2014. (This includes the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association, whose affiliates are technically separate but have exclusive, non-overlapping market territories and thus don’t compete with one another).

Health insurers probably can’t crash our economy, but they can impact it greatly, and the decisions they make truly have life or death consequences.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because state insurance regulators here in California are considering whether to allow several of our state’s major health insurers to merge. Anthem, California’s second largest health insurer, is poised to spend $54 billion to acquire rival Cigna, the state’s sixth largest health insurer; while Aetna, the third largest health insurer in the state, is set to absorb Humana, California’s fifth largest health insurer, to the tune of $37 billion. Nationally, these four companies rank third, fourth, fifth, and seventh in size. This would significantly reduce competition in California, where the market is already heavily concentrated in just a few firms.

Like other fields, lack of competition in health insurance is generally bad for consumers. As The Commonwealth Fund reported last year, “several studies document lower insurance premiums in areas with more insurers,” while insurance mergers tend to lead to higher premiums.

As an advocate for communities of color, I worry about these impacts, and I also worry about the specific effect on diverse communities in a state where people of color make up about 62 percent of the population.

In California and nationwide, communities of color have specific health challenges. Among other things, they disproportionately lack health insurance (despite improvements under the Affordable Care Act) and are more likely than whites to suffer from chronic health issues, often related to air pollution (that increases rates of asthma) or other environmental conditions.

This makes it important for health insurers to recognize the importance of diversity in order to be able to serve this diverse population. Aetna, for example, has a weak record, with people of color making up just 14 percent of the company’s executive positions and 15 percent of its board of directors. Communities of color are also underrepresented in Aetna’s rank-and-file staff. Additionally, Aetna rarely contracts with minority-owned suppliers, contributing little to our state’s diverse business economy.

Because of America’s ongoing racial wealth gap, we’re particularly concerned about the effect of health insurance mergers on affordability – though of course premium increases affect individuals and employers of all backgrounds. Companies looking to merge typically tout how combining will create efficiency and save costs, but – as noted above – these efficiencies seem to benefit stockholders and executives much more than consumers. We’ve thereforeproposed that, if Aetna and Humana are allowed to merge, they should put their money where their mouth is by pledging a five-year freeze on premium increases. If they’re so sure they can save money by merging, the people and small business owners who struggle to pay the cost of health coverage should benefit.

Keeping premium hikes under control benefits taxpayers, too, since under the Affordable Care Act federal tax dollars provide subsidies to help low-income families buy insurance.

I could go on citing specific questions about these mergers, but the issue of health insurer consolidation is bigger than any one merger or any particular constituency that a given merger might impact. Health coverage isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. And as a nation we’ve chosen (in large part due to lobbying pressure from big insurers) to base our system of paying for health care on private insurance rather than a government-run single-payer plan. The least we can expect government to do is to ensure that we don’t put Americans at risk because a small handful of too-big-to-fail insurance giants have free reign to take advantage of us all.

[Toolkit] ‘The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits’

PhilanTopic

Instead of our usual Saturday infographic, we’re changing things up a little this week and highlighting a different kind of resource. The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits (32 pages, PDF), a new publication from the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley, California, offers a variety of helpful tips and best practices for nonprofits that have yet to take the social media plunge or are looking to get more bang for their social media buck.

The guide is organized into seven sections, each with its own tips:

  1. How to Listen
  2. How to Communicate on Social Media
  3. How to Build an Audience and Following
  4. How to Manage Social Media Accounts
  5. How to Generate Consistent and Engaging Content
  6. How to Develop an Organizational Social Media Policy
  7. How to Measure Effectiveness

Nonprofits new to social media will want to start with the How to Listen section, which includes advice about how they can use tools like Twitter Search, Netvibes, and Facebook Graph Search to identify buzz terms/trending topics in each program/issue area they plan to communicate about. The How to Manage Your Social Media Accounts section name-checks useful apps such as Hootsuite, Seesmic, and Tweetdeck. And the How to Develop a Social Media Policy section offers a handful of tips and tools, including a “negative feedback” matrix from Idealware, that even seasoned social media managers will appreciate.

So, whether your organization is confused about what it should be doing to maximize its social media efforts or just getting started, The Art of Listening is well worth a look. To download a copy, click here.

'Tech Untaxed' Report Shows Declining U.S. Corporate Tax Rates

Law.Com
by: Catherine Dunn

How much does Apple, the world’s most valuable company, pay in taxes? About 9.8 percent–less than a third of the U.S.’s 35 percent top corporate income tax rate–according to a report being published Tuesday (aka, Tax Day). That’s down from Apple’s tax rate of 24.8 percent in 2009 and 14.7 percent in 2010.

Continue reading “'Tech Untaxed' Report Shows Declining U.S. Corporate Tax Rates”

$559 Million of Cap and Trade Funds Now Going to Underserved Communities

Consumers Union Blog
by Kristin Retter

Earlier this month California Governor Jerry Brown released a revised state budget, and the Greenlining Institute has issued a press release praising the new funds available to support AB32 and SB 535 projects.

AB 32, The Global Warming Solutions Act, generates revenue from the sale of carbon permits through the cap-and-trade program, and SB 535 requires that 25% of those funds benefit the most heavily polluted and disadvantaged neighborhoods, with at least 10% supporting projects located within these communities. These funds have already started to make an impact on the people living in these neighborhoods by creating new jobs, improving transportation, and helping residents lower their utility bills.

The revised budget issues new funding, with at least $559 million in cap and trade funding now going to underserved communities.  According to the Greenlining press release, some of the increased funding will support the following;

  • Low-income energy programs– These programs help pay for better weatherization and the installation of solar panels for low-income households, which helps to reduce energy use and monthly energy bills.
  • Urban forestry– Increasing and maintaining trees and other plants in an urban setting increases the air quality by helping to remove carbon from the air, increases the quality of life for residents, and actually cools the surface of the ground, which reduces the heat trapped in cities.
  • Charge Ahead Initiative– This initiative helps to increase access to ride and vehicle sharing programs in underserved communities using low or zero emissions vehicles, and to helps replace high pollution vehicles with low or zero emissions vehicles.
  • Affordable housing near public transit– This will help low-income families have access to transportation and be able to live near their schools and jobs, which will reduce air pollution and increase quality of life.

These initiatives are improving air quality and decreasing emissions to fight climate change while at the same time rectifying some of the ill effects of poverty by providing more options for low-income households.

1 Million Electric Vehicles in California? A Look at the State of the State

KCET
by Chris Clarke

Environmentally speaking, there wasn’t much new in Governor Brown’s State of The State message Wednesday morning. The Governor remains committed to building a high speed rail system. He said that the state’s drought meant we needed to keep working on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, as well as restoring and protecting wetlands.

For the most part it was all pretty basic stuff, reaffirming prior policy declarations from the Governor’s office. But one issue the governor mentioned has attracted some notice from environmental and clean-tech activists.

The issue? Our famously automobile-dependent state’s annual gasoline habit, and the technology that offers to replace it.

Here’s what Brown said about our typical methods of getting people and cargo from place to place in California:

[O]ur biggest challenge remains the amount of gasoline Californians use. Each year, our motor vehicles use more than 14 billion gallons of gasoline to travel over 330 billion miles. To put those numbers in perspective, the sun is 93 million miles away…

In so many other ways, California is a pioneer. We have 25 percent of the nation’s foreign born and we are the first state in modern times to have a plurality of families of Latino origin. So it’s not surprising that California is the state where immigrants can not only dream — they can drive.

We are also the state of innovation, of Silicon Valley and more venture capital investment than any other state — by far.

We’re on our way to a million electric vehicles and we’re building the nation’s only high-speed rail.

That “million electric vehicles” statement is a verbatim nod to a campaign called “Charge Ahead California,” a coalition of grassroots and mainstream green groups that is in fact pushing for a million electric cars in the state. Considering that there are close to 20 million cars registered in the state at the moment, that seems a fairly reasonable short-term goal, but it’s still quite a bit beyond the 50,000 or so electric cars now plying the state’s roadways.

Brown’s plug for the incentive won him praise from a number of groups. “We are strongly encouraged that the governor not only recognized the importance of cutting our gasoline use and putting a million electric vehicles on the road, he pointed out the crucial role that immigrants and communities of color can play in that effort.” said the Greenlining Institute’s Vien Truong. “We must move ahead with policies that put clean vehicles within reach of all Californians, regardless of income, race or neighborhood.”

Electric cars account for less than two percent of new car sales in the state, according to Charge Ahead, but some demographics are adopting the cleaner-tech vehicles more readily than others. Witness reporter Dana Hull’s piece this week in the San Jose Mercury News, in which she reports on “charge rage” among tech industry workers: employees are buying the cars faster than employers can install parking lot chargers, leading to conflict.

That’s likely a growing pain of the sort any fledgling consumer-industrial sector experiences. The fact is, Brown’s right: our state’s profligate use of gasoline is a major contributor to our climate footprint.

Governor Brown attempted to put our gasoline use into perspective by mentioning the distance to the sun. Most of us don’t really have a visceral idea of how far away the sun is. A more useful perspective might come from how much of the ecosystem’s ability to soak up the greenhouse gases we use in our annual driving habits.

Each gallon of gasoline burned in a car generates roughly 14 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), the major greenhouse gas contributing to our current climate woes. That means the 14 billion gallons of gasoline we burn each year in the state put 196 billion pounds of CO2 into the air. We reported last week on a study that indicates the state’s largest old-growth redwoods may remove as much as 2,400 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere each year: if those figures are correct, you’d need almost 82 million redwoods the size of the world’s largest to absorb the CO2 from our gasoline use.

At a typical old-growth forest density of about 20 very ancient redwood trees per acre that would cover 40 percent of the state, which would make it a lot harder to drive everywhere.

Or compare the raw figures to commonly touted greenhouse gas benefits of some prominent renewable energy projects. BrightSource Energy has touted the CO2 emissions reductions from its Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System as “the equivalent of taking more than 70,000 cars off the road.” Taking the company at its word, the state would need to build 283 more Ivanpahs to offset our annual car habits’ climate damage.

Transportation accounted for 37.6 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, making our cars, trucks, SUVs, and semis the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Every individual trip we take may not add much to the overall CO2 burden, but with close to 20 million cars in the state, those little trips do add up. And in a society that offers significant infrastructural disincentives to non-motorized travel, it can be hard to push ourselves to find alternative ways of getting around.

Which the Governor addressed, a bit obliquely, at the end of his address:

Overcoming these challenges will test our vision, our discipline and our ability to persevere. But overcome them we will and as we do, we will build for the future, not steal from it.

Sounds like a plan.