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Filmed on Friday October 3, 02008

Huey Johnson

Green Planning at Nation Scale

Huey Johnson is president of the Resource Renewal Institute, founder of Trust for Public Land, California's Secretary of Resources from 1976 to 1982, winner of the UN's Sasakawa Environment Prize in 2001.

"You cannot manage elements of the environment individually, one by one, or all your best efforts will unravel," says Johnson.  Government planning is needed, and it must match the pace and scale of the environment itself.  He instigated that kind of planning when he was California's Secretary of Resources in the 1980s, and he is inspired by the exemplary Green Plans of the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Singapore.  In this talk, as in his work with nations worldwide, he spells out the current best practices for serious, long-term Green Planning.

Trained as a biologist, an avid hunter and fisherman, Huey Johnson is president of the Resource Renewal Institute, based in Fort Mason.  After serving as head of The Nature Conservancy he founded Trust for Public Land in San Francisco in 1972.  While Secretary of Resources from 1976 to 1982 he created a hundred-year plan for California's natural resources called "Investing for Prosperity," which set in motion lasting programs of restoration for the state's rivers, forests, and wetlands, and also promoted energy conservation and renewable energy.  In 2001 he received the Sasakawa Environment Prize from the United Nations.

Green Plans

Green Plans, said Johnson, are government-run environmental programs that rise to the scale and longevity of environmental problems. Instead of acting piecemeal, they are comprehensive, systemic, integrated, and accountable. Instead of pursuing an energy policy, an air policy, and a water policy separately, you have to have one policy that covers them all.

He singled out three shining examples of how to make Green Plans work—Holland, New Zealand, and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32).

In 1988 Queen Beatrix used her Christmas speech to tell the people of the Netherlands that “the earth is slowly dying,” and the nation would disappear back under the sea if it did not solve its own environmental problems and inspire the rest of the world to do the same. The business community led the response, asking the government to set standards. The NGOs (which receive a third of their revenue from government grants) were expected to keep everybody’s feet to the fire. The Dutch comprehensive Green Plan basically rewrote the nation’s social contract. It took on every problem simultaneously with a trans-generational, trans-border approach. Environmental taxes replaced labor taxes. No waste was allowed to leave the country. The National Environmental Policy Plan is evaluated formally every four years and adjusted.

New Zealand in 1987 began research on what would become the biggest reform in its history, the Resource Management Act, which became law in 1991. Under the guiding principle of sustainability, the Act covers everything—air, water, soil, biodiversity, the coasts, and the full gamut of land use planning. The governance principle is “devolution,” meaning that most of the action covered by the Act takes place in regional, district, and city councils.

California’s famous AB 32 is our most important legislation in a century, said Johnson. The goal of taking the state’s greenhouse gas emissions back down to the 1990 level by 2020 requires radical action in every sector of the state’s economy, including cars, mass transit, shipping, building materials, city design, and a cap-and-trade market for greenhouse gas emissions. The state is coordinating with six other western state and three provinces in Canada under what is called the Western Climate Initiative.

In the Q&A Johnson was asked what single action would do the most to improve environmental responsibility from the federal government. “Campaign finance reform,” he said. The corruption of elected officials by special interest campaign donations makes them beholden to the wrong people for the wrong goals.

Johnson also has a low opinion of term limits. The great co-author of AB 32, Fran Pavley, was termed out after just six years in the State Assembly. If elected officials are always new in the capitol, they are easily manipulated by lobbyists and others who have been in town forever and have it wired.

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