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Bedsworth: Climate Solutions that Empower Communities

[Note from California 100: In August and September 2022, California 100 Commissioners helped convene diverse groups of leaders and practitioners from across the state, to take a deeper look at “big, bold ideas” for the state’s long-term future. Part of the deeper look involved consideration of drastically different scenarios for the state, which can be found in the Mega Scenarios report we published in collaboration with Institute for the Future (IFTF). 

Each Commissioner was then invited to write a reflection piece, on what they found to be some of the more salient points and dynamics from the stakeholder listening exercise. As you read the reflections from Commissioner Louise Bedsworth below, we encourage you to use the Mega Scenarios document as a reference point].


October 25, 2022

I was excited to join the CA100 Commission because the initiative is creating space, a structured process, and partnership to think boldly about California’s future. So far, the conversations among Commissioners have started to surface some of the bold actions needed to address some of our most pressing challenges, including climate change, systemic inequity, the growing wealth gap, and our housing crisis. The process is engaging, creative, and challenging. It is also sobering and confirms that there are no easy solutions. I was excited to get to engage more people in the conversation through the listening sessions.

Our listening session on the environment and natural resources was small, but mighty given the expertise of people in the room. I would describe the overall tenor as one of moderate optimism with a side order of skepticism and fear.

First, let’s start with optimism: The big bold ideas included positive visions of the future with technological breakthroughs, climate solutions, and overall well-being. Nearly all participants’ big ideas included addressing systemic inequity at their core – whether envisioning models for more equitable wealth distribution in a growing company or eliminating the racial wealth gap while accomplishing California’s climate goals. 

The California New Deal was the future most likely to be hospitable to these bold ideas, but even that was not a panacea. There was a recognition that our collective and individual vulnerability results from systemic discrimination and inequality. Concerns remained that actions to achieve the California New Deal would not address underlying institutions and systems and could perpetuate inequity. 

Our conversation then turned to how we can achieve this future and ensure that the actions to get there make the fundamental changes that we need? How can we achieve what I will call the California New Deal Plus? In this future, we will not only address environmental, economic, and social challenges, but in doing so, we will transform the underlying systems and institutions that have perpetuated inequity. 

Our discussion revealed several provocative ideas, starting with the need for systemic solutions. Nearly all of our participants recognized systemic and institutionalized structures as barriers to realizing transformation. Dismantling and reimagining systems, structures, and institutions is necessary to realize an equitable and just future. While we are making progress in achieving environmental outcomes, there was concern that the solutions being put forward today are not structural or systemic. Participants agreed that we need holistic and integrated solutions that will dismantle institutionalized racism and inequity and value diverse sources of knowledge and experience. 

One way to promote systems thinking is to establish new partnerships and collaborations. One participant suggested the need for “uncommon bedfellows,” who can come together to address complex, intersectional challenges. By bringing together and navigating different perspectives, goals, and priorities, we can develop more creative solutions and establish new structures, partnerships, and programs. 

We also talked about the importance and value of centering communities in developing solutions. This means putting community priorities and vision at the forefront, recognizing and valuing social cohesion and interaction, and using local and indigenous knowledge and expertise to develop solutions. The concept of social cohesion is a key element of resilience 

Even with these bold ideas, there was still a fear for the future. Fear seemed to stem less from the worsening climate and instability than from concern that we are not actually going to be able to make these systemic changes. Can we tackle inequity or will we continue to reinforce the systems that drive it? Will there be space and opportunity to think systemically and creatively to design solutions? Can we give power to communities to help shape the future from the ground up?

This leaves me with a question of whether there is such a thing as incremental transformation? A wholesale shake up in how we do things, however necessary, is not likely to happen. But, there is an increasing number of examples of new models being implemented all over California (and beyond) that we can and should build on. These examples include the Transformative Climate Communities program, Guaranteed Basic Income pilots, and partnership between the State and tribal governments to collaboratively manage and steward landscapes. 

These new models share some common characteristics, many of which we discussed in our listening session on energy, environment, and natural resources. Each of these models has equity at the core; invests and puts power in the hands of people and communities; and capitalizes on and advances local and indigenous knowledge, expertise, and values. As we implement and evaluate these model programs, they will provide an opportunity to use those learnings to replicate and scale new approaches for tackling our big challenges. A key will be to be intentional in our learning, scaling, and replicating. The California100 Initiative provides a valuable forum to lift up and share these programs and draw lessons for replication and scaling. I am excited to see us do this!