Ro Khanna touts Green New Deal during South Bay environmental forum
Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

    Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna spoke at a forum in the South Bay this weekend to help unveil key actions that Bay Area cities can take to combat climate change, while touting the importance of the Green New Deal on the region’s economy.

    Khanna, who represents California’s 17th Congressional District on Saturday spoke to a crowd of roughly 100 residents during a Climate Action Leadership Forum hosted by the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter.

    His message was loud and clear: Silicon Valley needs to embrace innovative environmental policy to keep its economic engine roaring and to remain competitive with the rest of the world.

    “Whoever wins the clean energy race, whoever creates these new technologies, is going to lead the 21st century when it comes to the economic future,” Khanna said. “We need to invest in these new industries and create new jobs across this country.”

    In a 15-minute speech, Khanna touched on the history of the Green New Deal and implored Bay Area leaders to view it from an economic lens, especially in an era in which jobs are being eliminated through automation.

    The deal, which aims to address economic inequality and climate change in one proposal, could help make the United States a leader in the green energy race, Khanna said. The Green New Deal, a polarizing measure for conservatives, seeks to cut climate pollution by mobilizing public resources to transition the fossil fuel economy to renewable energy jobs, proponents say.

    The proposal, which died in the Senate in March, is expected to be resurrected by Democrats and has catapulted climate change into the national conversation and the 2020 elections.

    “China has 50 percent of the electric vehicle market today,” Khanna said Saturday. “We have about 1 percent.”

    By 2025, the congressman said, China will rely on 40 percent renewable energy sources while the U.S. is slated to only have 18 based on its current trajectory.

    “Even if you don’t understand the existential threat that climate change poses,” Khanna said. “Even if you haven’t read the intergovernmental climate change report, surely you can agree that America should lead the world in 21st century technology and energy.”

    Khanna compared the energy race to Sputnik and the space race that took place in the middle of the 20th century.

    “Americans didn’t say who cares, we’ll let the Soviets have the lead,” Khanna said. “No, there’s a future technology. We want to lead.”

    Other speakers during Saturday’s event included Laura Brown from the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Environmental Stewardship Program, former Palo Alto Councilman Cory Wolbach, Silicon Valley Clean Energy representative Aimee Bailey, Gita Dev of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter and San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine.

    Sierra Club leaders focused on key initiatives to combat climate change, such as reducing sprawl and focusing on denser, inland development.

    Each speaker highlighted aspects of climate change and resource conservation, and stressed the importance of Bay Area cities working together on conservation initiatives. Climate change is to blame for many of California’s biggest challenges, Sierra Club leaders said, such as the large wildfires that have battered the state in recent years.

    Gita Dev, who serves as vice chair of the Peninsula Regional Group subset of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, also pointed to the region’s severe jobs-housing crisis as a sticking point for policymakers concerned about the environment.

    The region’s plans for growth, Dev added, shouldn’t include “sprawling into the hills or spreading into the bay.”

    She cautioned against future development that sprawls into hillsides and areas that strain natural resources, and said infill housing is a smarter solution. Dev said Mountain View is the only Bay Area city with a policy in place to help guard against this jobs-housing imbalance, but added that more work is needed.

    “It’s really good to have a good plan for growth (so) that… we can all say we do have places to grow, on our own footprint,” Dev said.

    Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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