"California is a bright spot for clean energy. States have often been the laboratories for policies that move to the federal level," notes Jonathan Kevles of the Sierra Club's Clean Energy Solutions campaign. "We can show the rest of the country that the economy and the environment are not mutually exclusive goals."
If California can prove that it's not the economy or the environment but rather the economy and the environment, the nation will likely follow. "It may take us in the U.S. 20 years to get there, but it will happen in some way, shape or form," says environmental engineer Sheeraz Haji, president of the Cleantech Group, a research and consulting firm, noting the convergence of governments, environmentalists and companies looking to reinvent themselves. "The general trend towards energy efficiency, a low-carbon economy and resource efficiency are bets that are so clear to me."
After all, it only took eight years for the U.S. to follow California's lead on increased fuel efficiency for cars and other vehicles. "One thing Obama has done on climate, he allowed California to adopt aggressive standards and now we're going to do it for the whole country," ARB board member Sperling says. "Now we're adopting a cap-and-trade program on our own."
Editor's Note: Reporting for this feature took place as a result of a Jefferson Fellowship from the East–West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.