THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s briefing on the state of California’s Climate Action Corps Program. My name is Wes Robertson and I am the moderator for today’s briefing. Our briefer today is California Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday. Mr. Fryday was appointed California chief service officer by Governor Newsom to lead service, volunteer, and civic engagement efforts throughout California. Mr. Fryday is a military veteran and a former mayor of Novato. He received his undergraduate degree in political science and philosophy from the University of California Berkeley and his law degree from the UC Berkeley School of Law.
And now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. The views expressed by briefers are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government. We will post a transcript and video of this briefing later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. Please make sure that your Zoom profile has your full name and the media outlet that you represent.
Chief Service Officer Fryday will now give opening remarks, and then we’ll open it up for questions. Over to you, sir.
MR FRYDAY: Thank you, Wes. Thank you so much and thank you all for joining us today as part of this conversation. It’s a real honor to be here and it’s actually quite appropriate, given the topic of today’s conversation, because it is Wildfire Preparation Week here in California. And I’m standing today at the state’s emergency operation center, where, because of climate change, it is very often and unfortunately a busy place to be.
So thank you for allowing us to come here today, because the reality is, for California, climate change is not an abstract idea or a concept, something that we think about in – for the decades to come. We are living the devastating effects of climate change now, where every year the hots are getting hotter and the dries are getting drier. Last year here in California, we experienced six of the largest and most destructive fire in our state’s history in just that year. Over four million acres burned throughout our state, and every year it’s getting worse. Even before COVID-19 closed many of the schools for our children, my kids would go days and sometimes weeks at a time without being able to go to school because fire made the air too dangerous for children to go outside and play. And when it comes to water, on top of the fires, California and the entire Western United States is experiencing a second consecutive dry year, where the winter conditions this year were far from normal.
And because we know how real climate change is – because we feel it so viscerally here in California – we have been a leader on creating a culture of climate action. When the last administration was pulling out of Paris and pulling away from climate action, California was leaning in. Governor Newsom took historic action, directing the state to require that by 2035, all new cars and passenger trucks sold here in California must be zero-emission vehicles. This joined 15 countries that have also committed to phase out gasoline-powered cars and using our market power to push zero-emission vehicle innovation and drive costs down for everybody. And in just the last couple weeks, Governor Newsom initiated regulatory action to end new permits for fracking by the start of 2024.
And although California has taken these steps and many more to lead on climate policy, Governor Newsom and our leaders here know that government policy alone isn’t enough, that if we’re going to create a culture of climate action and if we are deeply committed to addressing this issue, we must harness the power of our most important asset: the 40 million people who call California home. And we must engage everybody to be part of the solution.
So my office, which is California Volunteers, Office of the Governor, is the state office dedicated to service and volunteerism and civic action to empower our communities to help solve our biggest problems, like climate. And it should be no secret that now in America we have become deeply divided – politically, socially, economically. We are too often disconnected and distrustful, and as a result, we often become paralyzed and unable to come together to solve our biggest issues, like climate. So what California Volunteers and Governor Newsom believe – and we’re also seeing this leadership from President Biden and his administration – is that service and volunteering and civic action has the potential to bring people together from all different backgrounds and perspectives to solve problems around a common mission and a common purpose. And our hope is to empower people to be able to take action in their own community and work side by side with people of all backgrounds to get things done.
And I personally had the experience and the opportunity to witness the impact of service, the power of service, when I had the great fortune of being stationed in the United States Navy in Yokosuka, Japan. And we loved – absolutely loved – living in Japan, and on top of my son being there and many other great things happening, I got to witness the power of people coming together from all backgrounds and all perspectives and all beliefs to accomplish extraordinary things together. And Governor Newsom has doubled down on this particular approach to addressing climate and many other issues in our state. He created a cabinet-level position for service while investing in opportunities for people to serve and to come together.
And when it came to climate specifically, he launched the California Climate Action Corps, which is what we’re here to talk about today. It’s a first-in-the-nation, statewide effort to empower all Californians to take climate action. Now, creating opportunities for people to come together and solve big problems is not a new concept for us. In fact, in many ways, it is built into the very fabric of our country. It’s a part of our history, our tradition. It’s deeply embedded in our culture.
We can remember and look at great examples where Americans have historically answered the call to serve when they were asked to by our leaders. In the height of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt created as a key part of his New Deal program the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was set up to hire young men and help them rebuild our forests and build important infrastructure throughout our country.
Three decades later, we can remember in the 1960s John F. Kennedy creating the Peace Corps and famously inspiring Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
With climate now, in California, as an existential threat to not just this state but our planet and our species, Governor Newsom has said no state has mobilized and organized citizen climate action at scale. “California’s Climate Action Corps not only aims to do that but to serve as [an] inspiration for similar action across the country and globe.” Those were his words.
Recently, President Biden also proposed $10 billion to create a civilian climate corps to put a new and diverse generation of Americans to work doing things like conserving our public lands, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice. And if that comes to be, we are so excited to work with his administration on building that out.
So let me walk through for just a couple minutes how the California Climate Action Corps actually works. We are currently recruiting and deploying Climate Action Corps fellows and organizers in frontline communities around the state. These organizers will serve for a period of time that they commit to, whether it’s a summer or a seven-month program or up to a year. They will receive a stipend and a scholarship for college. And in this first year, 300 fellows will be placed around the state, and we hope and we expect that in the years to come that’ll be thousands.
The fellows are going to be placed in local communities with state and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and universities and colleges, where they will focus on developing and implementing climate action projects and organizing their communities. They’re going to be placed in diverse parts of the city and state, urban and rural, suburban, north and south, coastal and central. And these fellows will focus on a variety of climate projects in their communities, things like urban tree planting, which is especially important in heat islands and addressing historically underserved communities where tree canopies or, honestly, lack thereof is also an important social justice issue.
The fellows will also be focusing on edible food recovery and redistribution, which is important because in California alone, we throw away more than six million tons of food every year. And for every two and a half tons of food, that is equivalent of taking one car off the road. And of course, here in California, as we talked about in the beginning – this is Wildfire Preparation Week – we are focused on protecting high-risk communities from wildfires.
The organizers and the fellows that we’re placing around the state are going to be catalysts for their communities, organizing outreach and education activities and events for everyone to come together, to plan together, to work together, and to help solve climate together.
Which brings us to the second important piece of the Climate Action Corps: volunteering.
We are building a statewide tech hub of volunteer activities for people to volunteer and find organizations to engage with throughout the entire state. You’ll be able to put in your zip code and find an organization near you that you can sign up to volunteer.
And finally, the Climate Action Corps will also engage Californians with simple actions that they can take or you could take today from the comfort of your own home, things that have a meaningful impact on climate but can be done by individuals today – things like conduct home energy consumption assessments or self-energy audits; protect yourself from fire by hardening your home or clearing defensible space; donating unused food and composting; planting trees; unplugging electric devices when you’re not home or don’t need them; conserving energy; and, of course, many others.
Our hope with this whole approach, with organizing in the community, with sparking volunteer opportunities to work together and come together, and for inspiring action on – with every Californian, is to create climate opportunities for everyone so that whether you have an hour to give or a year to give, you can be part of the solution.
The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed in his book, Democracy in America, he said, “I have often seen Americans make large and genuine sacrifices to the public good, and I have noted on countless occasions that when necessary they almost never fail to lend one another a helping hand.”
When it comes to the magnitude of this crisis for our state and our planet, we need everyone to lend a helping hand to be part of the solution. And our hope is that with the Climate Action Corps, out of this crisis we create community – healthier communities, safer communities, and more united communities.
It’s really an honor to be with you here today, and I would be happy to answer any questions if you have any.
QUESTION: Can we just unmute ourselves, ask questions? Is that how it works?
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much for those remarks. Really appreciate you taking the time to be with us today. If you have questions, please go to the participant field and virtually raise your hand, and then we’ll call on you and ask you to [un]mute yourself. You can also submit a question via the chat box. If you have not already done so, please take the time now to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet.
So the first question I see is from Lawrence Dodd from the Daily Telegraph. You can go ahead and unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Hello. Thanks very much for the opportunity. I am really curious about your remarks both about other states and sort of hoping that others will follow this example, and about wanting to bring people together and bridge partisan divides with this. Those two things kind of go together, and maybe that’s two questions. One is: What kind of response and openness have you seen from other state leaders, especially Republican state leaders, to doing similar programs like this or taking similar initiatives in their state, or just working with yours in a productive way, right?
And the second question that’s linked to that is: Climate change still in many cases is a partisan issue – perhaps less so than it was before, but I can easily see how some Republicans might want to frame a program like this as a sort of politicized sort of private force by a Democratic governor. There’s already a sort of – perhaps a little bit of a fringe line about it, but it’s sort of – there’s an attack line about California being a sort of corrupt Democratic fiefdom. And I wonder, how do you ensure that this actually does bridge partisan divides rather than becoming new fodder sort of increasing them over climate change? Thank you.
MR FRYDAY: Yeah, thank you for the question. And to start off, we’ve been really touched and inspired by the reaction we’ve gotten from other states and other state leaders, including other mayors from around the country who want to learn from the model that we’re creating, and want to think about how to do it themselves. We’re also very encouraged by the Biden administration’s willingness and desire to create a civilian climate action corps that empowers and brings people together to solve climate.
Let me share, if I could, my – our experience here in California, because I think it helps inform what is possible in America around this issue and gets to the heart of your question. I was in Fresno a couple weeks ago where we’re piloting one of our programs this year, and we did an event that – on a Saturday morning – it was warm out. It was one of the first events in the COVID era where people are starting to gather in a safe distance outside. And there were 1,200 volunteers in the city of Fresno, a place that is not considered a liberal bastion of California, that were doing an event around beautifying Fresno where we planted hundreds of trees, where we worked on a community garden.
And it was led in partnership with the mayor of Fresno, who was recently elected, is a Republican and a former law enforcement leader in his community. He has embraced and is championing the Climate Corps – Climate Action Corps model, because he understands that it’s critical for dealing with some of the issues he faces in his community around beautification, around lack of tree canopy. And he sees that by investing in service, by investing in volunteerism, by asking people to step up and serve, that that helps his community and the goals of the entire Fresno area.
And so I share that example to demonstrate that this can and should be a way for us to come together to say we can help solve and focus on our local priorities, which is how we’ve designed this program, so that mayors and nonprofits and universities and businesses can look at what is facing their community, the issues that they’re dealing with, and they can use the power of service and volunteerism and civic engagement to solve those issues.
So we’re very hopeful that we actually are creating a model that will be embraced party lines and across all communities who just want to make their community healthier and safer.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Our next question is from Martin Burcharth. If you could go ahead and unmute yourself and ask you question.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you very much. I’m the U.S. correspondent for the Danish newspaper Information. Mr. Fryday, very interesting remark about Fresno, which I know. I’ve been there a couple of times. I wanted to ask you just to elaborate on what you said in regard to food supply. I really didn’t get exactly what would be the impact of whatever’s planned for these volunteers to give whether – in terms of the local food supply. How – what would be the impact on – the positive impact on climate change?
MR FRYDAY: Thank you. Thank you for that question. When we were doing the research around creating the Climate Action Corps and the due diligence on what could we actually empower people to do that would have a meaningful impact on climate – and one of the interesting things that popped up that surprised even me is the impact of food waste on climate.
So one of the – again, the fact I shared is that every year Californians, just our state, throw away – whether it’s individuals or restaurants or grocery stores – 6 million tons of food waste. For every 2.5 tons of food waste that is saved that is equivalent to taking one car off the road. So California, through CalRecycle, which is a state agency of California, has set very ambitious goals to reduce food waste in our communities as a way of hitting California state climate goals. And each community, many community cities and towns, also have their own goals to reduce food as a climate issue.
Now it has an interesting also impact of the connection between climate and equity, where it also allows us to deal with food insecurity, which has become, as we all are witnessing, a tremendous problem in America and something that our governor and the President is taking very seriously in investing in. I was just at a program last week called White Pony Express in a low-income community in Concord, California, where this community – this particular organization had saved 17 million pounds of food waste that they redistributed to people in need. That in and of itself has a significant climate impact on our state.
So what we are having our fellows do, what we’re asking volunteers to do, and what we’re doing through education and outreach activities is to learn how to compost. Some of our fellows are helping the City of San Jose create a compost system. We’re working with nonprofits that are doing outreach and education about how individual families and restaurants and businesses could do better with food waste.
So we think this is a really innovative way that not only has a climate impact but literally every Californian can be part of the solution. I think one of the things that we can get wrapped up in in climate action and in climate policy is it becomes so global that we become paralyzed. We say it’s too big of an issue. Well, with food reduction and recovery it’s literally something that everyone can do to be part of the solution, and we found that that’s inspiring for people.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up question. Is that allowed?
MR FRYDAY: Sure, I’m okay with it.
QUESTION: I just want to check with the FPC. No problem, no sweat. I just wanted to ask you is there – are you thinking of other things that can be done besides tree canopies and food waste? I’m thinking of conserving energy by way of improving insulation of buildings. There you can have volunteers work on that as well.
MR FRYDAY: Yes. Absolutely. So I love that question because it also allows me to highlight that we’re in year one. So we’ve identified projects that we could get going right away but that also really are accessible for everyone. We absolutely – and we’ve already had interest from many communities and mayors around the state of California that want us to work on solar projects, energy conservation projects, and a whole host of other sustainable – agriculture community gardens. There’s a variety of opportunities for people to engage in climate action.
What we’re doing – what we’re doing that is new, and what we’re trying to accomplish here – is to invest in creating the opportunities for everyone to engage and be part of the solution. And that’s what we think is really exciting.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Well, I don’t see that we have additional questions at this point, so I don’t know if you have any closing remarks you’d like to make, Chief Officer Fryday.
MR FRYDAY: Only to say thank you, Wes, thank you to everyone for joining us today, and to say we’re very proud of what we’re doing here in California. But we also understand that we’re all in this together and this is something that we’re going to continue to work with leaders from around the country and leaders around the world until we can fully tackle this challenge. So thank you.
MODERATOR: This concludes our briefing. I want to give special thanks to Chief Service Officer Fryday for sharing his time with us today and for those of you who participated. Thank you very much and have a wonderful day.