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Jim Crow returns to California The Golden State's climate policies have enforced racial segregation

Draconian climate policies have created a racially segregated state (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Draconian climate policies have created a racially segregated state (Mario Tama/Getty Images)


August 31, 2021   5 mins

California’s leaders might see themselves as a vanguard of progressive and eco-friendly values. But in reality, their draconian climate policies have created a racially segregated state more akin to the pre-Civil Rights era South. As Attorney Jennifer Hernandez puts in a startling new report for the environmentalist Breakthrough Institute, California has been plunged into “a new Green Jim Crow era”.

The “soaring environmental rhetoric of the state’s affluent, largely white technocratic leadership”, she concludes, is “deepening the state’s shameful legacy of racial injustice”. Certainly, the impact is stark. California now suffers the nation’s worst cost-adjusted poverty rate; and according to the United Way of California, more than 30% of California residents lack sufficient income to meet basic costs of living, even after accounting for public assistance programmes. Those struggling families include half of Latino and 40% of black residents.

There are two main factors driving this “new Green Jim Crow era”. The first, and most obvious, is California’s energy policy, which has made the state’s electricity and gas prices the highest on the mainland, with electricity prices 50% above the national average and gasoline costs that exceed even import-reliant Hawaii in the centre of the Pacific Ocean.

This surge in prices derives from the state’s obsession — shared by the ruling tech oligarchs — with renewable energy and the elimination of fossil fuels. Yet as a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report has shown, over-reliance on renewables is costly, because it requires the production of massive (and environmentally unfriendly) battery-storage capacity — the price of which is invariably passed on to the taxpayer.

This is not bad news for the tech oligarchs, who have been prominent among those profiting from “clean energy” investments. But many other Californians, primarily those in the less temperate interior, find themselves falling into energy poverty or are dependent on state subsidies that raise electricity prices for businesses and the middle class. Black and Latino households are already forced to pay from 20 to 43% more of their household incomes on energy than white households. Last year, more than 4 million households in California (30% of the total) experienced energy poverty.

These policies have also had the secondary effect of driving out many of the blue-collar industries — manufacturing, construction, energy — that have traditionally employed ambitious, upwardly mobile minority families. While the small, insulated, post-industrial urban elite bloats up on cash and stokes its virtue, over the past decade California has lost 1.6 million above-average-paying jobs, more than twice as many as any other state.

This attrition reflects in part the torpor of the state’s industrial sector; California now sits in the bottom half of states in manufacturing-sector employment growth, ranking 44th last year, easily outpaced by competitors such as Nevada, Kentucky, Michigan and Florida. Even without adjusting for costs, no Californian city ranks in the US top ten in terms of well-paying blue-collar jobs, but four — Ventura, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego — sit among the bottom ten.

This is hardly surprising when you consider that California’s largest economic pogrom is directed at the state’s most important energy industry: gas and oil development. Two years ago, Governor Newsom — who has been described as “California’s champion virtue signaler” — announced plans to shut the entire industry down. His latest decree, announced in April, confirmed his intention to phase out oil extraction. Perhaps it could be considered a noble campaign, if it weren’t for the fact that California chooses instead to import its oil from such enlightened states as Saudi Arabia.

And while this shift will not cause much pain in Malibu or Menlo Park, where the wealthy can continue to tool around in their BMWs, in Bakersfield, where the industry is centered, or around the coastal refineries, the impact could be catastrophic. According to a study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, these dictates threaten over 366,000 high-paying, largely blue-collar jobs — roughly half of which are held by people of colour.   

Yet perhaps inflated housing costs constitute the cruelest blow dealt by the Greens to the state’s middle and working class. As part of its climate policy, California strives to force development into transit-dependent dense neighbourhoods, a policy that has raised prices and ire in mostly minority working-class communities. At the same time, the state and the Green lobby has worked overtime, often in alliance with well-funded green groups, to stop or curtail development along the urban fringe, where land prices and regulatory costs tend to be somewhat less extreme. Some developments, like the Tejon Ranch north of Los Angeles, have been delayed for three decades.

These and other restrictions have slowed housing growth in the state. During 2020, when national house construction was increasing 6.1% from 2019, California’s rate was down 3.7%, according to Census Bureau data. As a result, for more than half of renters in California, housing costs exceed 30% of household income, the traditional definition of unaffordability. And nearly 70% of all state households with unaffordable housing costs are people of colour.

These conditions explain why Californians are leaving; an exodus which is particularly notable among minorities. California may have the most “enlightened” policies for people of colour, but they are still leaving the state for less “progressive” states, such as Texas. San Francisco’s African-American community has declined from one in seven in 1970 to barely one in twenty today, with most now ensconced in public housing.

Even the foreign-born — the group that has transformed California over the past few decades — are staying away. An analysis of Census data by demographer Wendell Cox shows that the foreign-born population is actually declining in Los Angeles, fading in the Bay Area while growing by as much as 30% in rival cities like Dallas.

Is there any chance that these patterns can be reversed within the state? I suspect we are about to find out. Hernandez has filed a lawsuit with 200 civil rights leaders alleging that the California Air Resources Board, the supreme architect of climate policies, adopts policies essentially discriminatory towards minorities. “CARB,” the group wrote to the agency at the end of last year, “wilfully elected to increase housing costs and make it more difficult for members of our communities to close the wealth gap”.

Of course, the plaintiffs face an uphill fight in the progressive-dominated California judiciary. Even with strong support from leading minority activists, her suit has received virtually no coverage from the state’s mainstream media, which has become largely an amplifier of green agitation.

But outside the media bubble there are clear signs of growing dissent. Roughly half of Latinos, according to the most recent polls, favour the recall of the state’s eco-Governor Gavin Newsom. Recently Latino voting rights advocates openly criticised the efforts by the Sierra Club — a leading environmental organisation — to “phase out” affordable gas-powered cars. The rules, they suggest, are designed instead to make it possible for “our rich neighbors in the next town to charge their Teslas and run their air conditioners on hot days but make it unaffordable to use ours”.

Ultimately, the Greens will have to confront such criticism. Some may seek a way out by shoving the displaced working class into permanent dependency with the introduction of a universal basic income. This could allow the state to reduce energy consumption— but comes with an eye-watering price tag. The Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transit Commission recently proposed a $205 billion statewide universal basic income program, but that only covers a $500 monthly payment to all households — a pitiable amount in a state where rents average $1500 a month .

Meanwhile, Hernandez is calling for “climate equity”, where the rich, rather than the poor, pay the biggest price. After all, wealthy neighbourhoods generate up to fifteen times more greenhouse gas emissions than average and lower-income ones.

What’s certain is that to succeed over time, in California and elsewhere, environmental policy must not sacrifice what Michael Shellenberger has described as “the goal of universal prosperity”. Environmentalists need to win over the population not by terrorising them but by showing that we can protect nature without stomping out human aspirations. If minorities are able to force the green establishment to confront the economic implications of their policies, that might be a start.


Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

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J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

And yet California remains unassailably Democratic. I know there’s currently a recall petition against Democratic governor Newsom, but the last time I looked most analysts gave it little chance of succeeding. The author also notes that the state’s highest court is basically packed with progressive judges so legal challenges to the Democrats’ policies face an uphill battle.
If people keep voting for politicians who support this stuff (or if voters simply ignore the political process) nothing will change. And maybe that’s the answer. The state has to fall over the economic precipice before change can occur.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

In some ways the odious Newsom is the best answer to enforce policy change. The more damage he does, the more likely it is that he will be voted out
 or not.
In South Africa the majority keep on voting in the ANC who have been devastating for the young democracy. It doesn’t seem to matter that there is an epic failure in governance and that every day (yes every day), more and more corruption is exposed. It seems many more than 25 years are required for the message to sink in.
So all that the Dems have to do is to continue letting in more and more migrants (voters) who will take a substantial amount of time to cotton on to the game.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

In the meantime, those with real skills leave those areas for greener pastures. The problem with Democrat voters is that many of them are credentialed, yet gullible midwits. In their arrogance they believe their watered-down education makes them smarter than those who think different to them.

As a college educator, I have always impressed upon my students that if they believe a college degree makes them superior to those without, then their education has gravely failed them.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

A long and boring statement of the obvious which can be said in three words — utopianism doesn’t work.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago

Utopia, was a satirical work describing the impossibility of its own existence. The words itself is derived from Greek and means ‘no place’, a place that cannot exist.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

One man’s utopia is another’s hell.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“California residents lack sufficient income to meet basic costs of living, even after accounting for public assistance programmes. Those struggling families include half of Latino and 40% of black residents.There are two main factors driving this “new Green Jim Crow era”.”

So half Latinos cannot make it by working – yet Biden opens the border? That is what I take from this story. Forget about energy costs – the ones who make a living can afford it – why are these unable to as well? That is what policy needs looking at.

If Trump does not get back in 2024 the nation is lost.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

With respect, isn’t the egregious element here the huge disparity between what salves the wealthy tech bro’s conscience with their left wing virtue signaling because of their overwhelming energy consumption vs. the poorer Californian’s energy poverty?
I say this as a Brit, so can only go on what I read.
We do have similar (or worse) climate policies in this country that our politicians openly admit will make everyone poorer (at least in the 10 – 15 year timescale), and will disproportionately be born by the less well off.

Last edited 2 years ago by Philip Stott
Ludwig van Earwig
Ludwig van Earwig
2 years ago

Why mar your article with a sensationalist title, and by buying into the Critical Race Theory/”systemic racism” narrative? The same policies that are apparently driving out poor blacks and Latinos will also make California unaffordable for poor whites. These developments have nothing to do with the Jim Crow era segregation laws, which were all about skin pigmentation.

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago

Yes! Green, as in greenback dollar, is the true neutral.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

I don’t imagine they will be investing in nuclear energy production then which they could afford and which would provide “energy equity”!

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

A great way to solve the problem would be to build low income housing in the deserts of Nevada so all the undesirables can be moved out there. This way, the Nancy’s and Gavin’s would not have to be exposed to a gas guzzling, common man auto at the red light on Wilshire Blvd.
This strategy would also eliminate any potential opposition in the next election. Then they could all bask in a sinfully delightful orgy of woke progressivism.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

Seems emojis don’t render – it was a “thumb’s up”.

Last edited 2 years ago by Philip Stott
David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
2 years ago

I wouldn’t call the Breakthrough Institute “environmentalist” – they are funded by billionaires (the Pritzkers), and their board is stuffed with financiers, biotech and corporate consultants. Rather than Shellenberger’s “universal prosperity” we should look to E. F. Schumacher, who reminded us that the problem of overconsumption is at root a compensation for nihilism.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
2 years ago

Could the answer to this be a policy whereby every citizen gets a certain amount of annual energy credits (roughly equal to the affordability of local earnings) and any usage over that is subjected to sharply increasing tax?

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
2 years ago

I have always been an environmental moderate, and I will always rank adequate housing resources above energy saving, especially in California. But at the risk of sounding like a monocle-adjusting Tech oligarch, I think you would persuade more people if you conceded even a tiny point of the environmental issue. How about build tons of housing in as green a way as we can without raising costs exorbitantly? Isn’t NIMBYism a bigger threat to planned housing than “the Greens”? How about allowing local energy production and consumption with a plan to gradually replace a reasonable percentage of it with clean energy, as clean energy gets cheaper? Does it really have to be all-or-none? Investing in better public transportation and light rail would also make it easier for people who can’t afford to live in city centers to commute to work in an environmentally friendly (and mentally healthier) way. I also think the word ‘pogrom’ is out of place here, especially when the target is energy companies.

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago

When we find a clean energy source, we’ll get back to you.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
2 years ago

When did tenants become ‘renters’? ugly word!
Unaffordable, insufficient housing, loss of manufacturing, increasing inequality, escalating fuel prices, phasing out of fossil fuel cars, etc, etc….
Welcome to the UK’s world California!

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago

As a 4th generation Californian, I agree with this assessment. “Green Jim Crow” functions as a regressive penalty, first on the poor and then on the struggling middle class, no matter the ethnic identity. Very few who live here fail to be deeply impressed by nature’s beauty, but stewardship is one thing, and a ruthless levelling on the basis of shaky science, is quite another. Sure it’s nice to imagine carbon-free energy — but at this point in time, as they say, “you can’t get there from here”. Modest, careful scaffolding has to be done. If we change horses in mid-stream, we’re liable to learn that the stream we are up is Crap Creek, and us without a paddle.

Helen E
Helen E
2 years ago

Came across the Breakthrough Institute report from another site, tried sincerely to read the whole tendentious, dreadful thing line-by-line. Apologies to the author for any missed content. But:
Its author appears to blame minorities’ economic hardship on California’s “racist climate housing policies” and California’s “racist climate transportation policies,” without mentioning the drastic demographic change that Calif. experienced over the last four decades since 1980: the replacement of blacks and low-income workers of all races by waves of immigration, mostly by Hispanics/Latinos (both legal but mostly undocumented), in the state’s workforce and in housing. This change is well documented (see 2017 UCLA report published in conjunction with Los Angeles Black Workers Center):
“Construction has offered a lot of new jobs to Angelenos over the last several decades, but those positions don’t seem to be going to black workers. There were 7,012 black workers in construction in 2014, 2,000 fewer than there were in 1980, according to census data analyzed by UCLA.
“That 23% drop compares with an overall increase of 120,840 construction workers of all races during those 34 years, or 80%.
“Those new jobs aren’t going to white workers, either. There were nearly 40,000 fewer white construction workers in Los Angeles in 2014 compared with 1980, a decline of about 40%.
“Latinos, however, have significantly upped their representation. There were more than 185,000 Latino construction workers in Los Angeles in 2014, five times as many as in 1980. (Emphasis mine.)
In addition to demographic changes: Manufacturing has been lost in every state since the 1980s, not just California. High-tech industries have moved into the Bay Area—for good or ill—forcing workers out to more affordable exurbs.
To ignore these seismic changes, and place all the blame on a handful of climate-change initiatives (a “green” Jim Crow, for god sake) shows the author’s utter lack of sincerity

Last edited 2 years ago by Helen E
Helen E
Helen E
2 years ago

Came across the Breakthrough Institute report from another site, tried sincerely to read the whole tendentious, dreadful thing line-by-line. Apologies to the author for any missed content. But:
Its author appears to blame minorities’ economic hardship on California’s “racist climate housing policies” and California’s “racist climate transportation policies,” without mentioning the drastic demographic change that Calif. experienced over the last four decades since 1980: the replacement of blacks and low-income workers of all races by waves of immigration, mostly by Hispanics/Latinos (both legal but mostly undocumented), in the state’s workforce and in housing. This change is well documented (see 2017 UCLA report published in conjunction with Los Angeles Black Workers Center):
“Construction has offered a lot of new jobs to Angelenos over the last several decades, but those positions don’t seem to be going to black workers. There were 7,012 black workers in construction in 2014, 2,000 fewer than there were in 1980, according to census data analyzed by UCLA.
“That 23% drop compares with an overall increase of 120,840 construction workers of all races during those 34 years, or 80%.
“Those new jobs aren’t going to white workers, either. There were nearly 40,000 fewer white construction workers in Los Angeles in 2014 compared with 1980, a decline of about 40%.
“Latinos, however, have significantly upped their representation. There were more than 185,000 Latino construction workers in Los Angeles in 2014, five times as many as in 1980. (Emphasis mine.)
In addition to demographic changes: Manufacturing has been lost in every state since the 1980s, not just California. High-tech industries have moved into the Bay Area—for good or ill—forcing workers out to more affordable exurbs.
To ignore these seismic changes, and place all the blame on a handful of climate-change initiatives (a “green” Jim Crow, for god sake) shows the author’s utter lack of sincerity

Last edited 2 years ago by Helen E
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Well, well. There are lots of problems in California. Extreme income inequality, racial inequality, poverty, limited space, high cost of living. But it just so hapens that all of them are caused by the climate policy that the author happens to dislike? How very wonderful!

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The article very clearly laid out the mechanisms through which the climate policy causes income equality: higher energy prices, lower housing and loss of manufacturing / energy jobs .

So which of these factors do you think
A. Has no linkage to climate policy
B. Has no effect on income inequality

This comment highlights the biggest problem with the West which will bring it down: a mass of “educated” people with inflated ego, cult like beliefs, inability to think or analyse arguments and disproportionate influence in shaping policy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Samir Iker
John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

The very same people who came up with Covid lockdown policies, enabling them to work comfortably from home whilst those who could not do this suffered considerable hardship.
We have them in the UK too and with similar results. It has always struck me as odd that those who most champion ‘the poor’ are the ones whose policies cause them the most harm.