[By Brendan Smith and Jeremy Brecher]

The climate denial lobby behind Proposition 23 in California argues they’re fighting to protect jobs by overturning what they like to call California’s “Job Killing Global Warming Law.” But don’t be fooled: if passed, Proposition 23 will remove all hope of protecting California’s economy — and its workers — from the worst effects of climate change.

Proposition 23 seeks to suspend AB32 — the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, aimed at reducing California’s carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — from going into effect until state unemployment falls to 5.5 percent or lower for at least four consecutive quarters.

Framing Prop 23 as the “California Jobs Initiative” is a clever bait-and-switch by out of state oil tycoons like David Koch to halt any and all efforts at the state level to address the climate crisis and save California’s already slumping economy.

Voters in California — and every other state — need to realize that failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions risks destroying millions of jobs and grinding California’s economy to a halt. The effects of climate change need to be thought of as a “negative stimulus” to the economy, leading to reduced profitability, decreased investment, job loss, and falling wages.

A case in point is the effects of rising seas on California’s ocean economy. In 2005 researchers at the National Ocean Economics Program at California State University, surveyed the impact of key ocean industries — including construction, tourism and recreation, and transportation — on California’s overall economy. Using 2000 data, researchers found that the state’s ocean economy is the largest in the US, ranking number one overall for both employment and gross state product (GSP). It directly provides approximately 700,000 direct and indirect jobs — which in turn generate more than $24 billion in wages and salaries. They also evaluated the total value of all economic transactions within 19 coastal counties and identified $1.15 trillion of economic activity, or 86% of total state economic activity.

This entire ocean economy is threatened by just one element of climate change: rising sea levels. Seas have already risen seven inches in San Francisco Bay over the 20th century, and new findings indicate that in a do-nothing scenario California sea level may rise by as much as 5 feet this century. Here is a selection of some of the employment impacts we can anticipate if we fail to address the climate crisis:

  • Public and Health Sector Workers: According to the Pacific Institute, flood and storm damage along California’s coastline threaten 55 health care facilities, 140 schools and 58 power and wastewater treatment plants. The impacts will be felt by every Californian working and living along the coast, ranging from nurses and teachers to water and energy workers.
  • Building Trade Workers: With 77% of California’s population living in coastal counties, over900 billion in “near shore” homes are at risk from water damage. In a do-nothing scenario housing prices along the coast are likely to plummet, and areas along the coast vulnerable to flooding could become all but unbuildable. The potential large-scale disinvestment followed by long-term depression in the construction industry would be catastrophic to building trades jobs.
  • Port and Airline Workers. Sea level rise, storms, and waves will threaten California’s seaports and airports. Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland seaports handle 40 percent of US container shipping and nearly a quarter of all foreign trade. Rising sea levels with high waves and tides are likely to damage port facilities. San Francisco International Airport is thirteen feet above mean sea level and Oakland International airport is nine feet about mean sea level — making both highly vulnerable to rising seas. Crippled seaports and airports unable to support normal traffic would mean fewer jobs for port and airline workers.
  • Tourism and Recreation Workers. Nearly a million Californians work in tourism and recreation. All are affected by climate change, but beaches are especially vulnerable to sea level rise and accelerated erosion. Even if sea level rises only three feet or so, the best-case scenario, it would cause a 26% reduction in beach width in Los Angeles and Orange County beaches and the elimination of Las Tunas beach. Park rangers and hotel and restaurant workers will be among the thousands of workers whose livelihoods are at risk.

And that’s not to mention the effects of ocean acidification and climate-produced heat waves, fires, air pollution, and water shortages. Proposition 23 is the real job-killer. Why? Because there are no jobs on a dead planet.