California pledges carbon neutrality by 2045

Graphic by Anjali Rao-Herel ’22

Graphic by Anjali Rao-Herel ’22


This month, California approved their ambitious plan to rely on 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. Carbon neutrality is achieved by reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, primarily by increasing energy efficiency and converting to renewable energy sources. Neutrality can also be achieved by balancing the remaining carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset by reduced emissions elsewhere. With its pledge, California has joined Hawaii as only the second state to commit to clean energy. Other states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Washington D.C., are also looking into longterm renewable energy plans, according to the New York Times.

Senate Bill 100, the bill set to make California 100 percent carbon-free by 2045, passed in State Assembly by a vote of 44 to 33. This bill was put into motion by Senator Kevin de León. “Because of the fires, because of the extreme drought, because of the anti-environmental edicts coming from this president, there’s a huge ground swell of support,” Sen. de León said. As Gov. Jerry Brown of California prepared to sign the bill, he promised that California would continue to make environmental strides, as climate change personally affects residents of his state in the form of wildfires and drought.

While most would agree that Brown’s decision is a step in the right direction, some are questioning his motivations.

“How can a pledge to only use clean energy make a difference when fossil fuels are still being produced in-state? This does nothing to alleviate the harm to communities perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry elsewhere,” said Theo Claire ’20, a resident of California and the treasurer of the Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition. “California pledging to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2045 is better than nothing. But we must make structural changes and address the underlying systems of extraction, destruction, accumulation and profit which are driving climate change.”

Brown has acknowledged that California still needs to develop a coherent plan to meet their goal. “Do we have a long way to go? Yes,” said Brown. “But you have to begin. This is the way to go, and, sure enough, we’re going there.”

Similar to California, Mount Holyoke has pledged carbon neutrality by its bicentennial year, 2037. Mount Holyoke established their first plan of action in 2004, by beginning a partnership with Clean Air-Cool Planet, a regional organization dedicated to finding and promoting solutions to climate change. By signing the 2004 agreement, the College agreed to set a target for greenhouse gas reductions that was consistent with those established by the 2001 Regional Climate Action Plan. According to the Mount Holyoke website, the plan established the short-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the region to levels present in 1990 by 2010 and to a level 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. In 2010, the College met their first benchmark, with emission levels lower than those of 1990.

Mount Holyoke College’s commitment to carbon neutrality was demonstrated through actions taken in 2017 by President Sonya Stephens, who signed the “We Are Still In” declaration. The declaration supports the Paris Agreement’s global commitment to climate action, despite the U.S. government’s decision to withdraw. Some students still do not think the College is doing enough.

“While a nice gesture, the clean energy pledge feels like a gesture meant to appease environmentally conscious students and alums,” said Claire. “We deserve an institution willing to take meaningful action by divesting from the fossil fuel industry.”

Another member of the Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition, Julia Klukoff ’21, agrees with Claire. “The Climate Justice Coalition will continue to fight for fossil fuel divestment,” said Klukoff. “Sustainability is not an individualistic effort; it has to be collective or nothing will be fixed.”

To achieve carbon neutrality, the College’s strategies include improving energy efficiency and conservation, retrofitting historic buildings and switching to carbon-neutral heating and electricity sources with progress assessments every five years.

“Now more than ever, it is important that the College take this position to manage its carbon emissions efficiently and to identify every opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint,” said President Sonya Stephens in a statement on the College’s website. “We are committed to reaching this carbon neutrality, and to identifying new technologies in our search for clean energy systems that move us toward it.”