Jerry Brown Is the Face of America’s Climate-Change Resistance
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump is the "enemy of the people" for hampering efforts to reverse potentially catastrophic increases in carbon emissions, California Governor Jerry Brown said Monday, blasting White House environmental policy after signing a bill that will move the state toward 100 percent clean energy use by 2045.
"Trump is not just AWOL on climate change, he has designated himself saboteur-in-charge," Brown said in a telephone interview, citing the administration’s actions against California’s emissions standards, electric-car mandates and clean-power rules. "He has designated himself basically enemy of the people. I’m calling him out because climate change is a real threat of death, destruction and ultimate extinction."
Brown helped organize a Global Climate Action Summit that begins Wednesday in San Francisco. Among dozens of scheduled speakers are local and national government officials from around the world -- though none representing the Trump administration. Another of the co-chairs is Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
For Brown, the summit will be a high-profile opportunity to pound his bully pulpit as he prepares to leave his post as governor of the most populous U.S. state in January. Under his leadership, California has become a hotbed of resistance to Trump policies on everything from immigration to public lands. On climate change, which Brown has said poses an “apocalyptic threat,” the governor said: "We’ve got to move forward."
Brown said the goal of the event is to motivate states, cities and companies to do their part in reaching the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Commitments attendees will make at the event will leave people "greener than before they came," he said.
For California, it will be part of a journey toward ambitious emission reductions, Brown said, saying that once the state reaches zero emissions in 2045, it will have to aim for "negative emissions" and "widespread carbon sequestration.”
"The fact that it may take 100 or 150 years doesn’t detract from the fact that carbon is building up," Brown said. "Over 90 percent of scientists are telling us that."
Three days ago, when Brown signed bills to block new offshore-oil drilling that could thwart a federal plan to open vast areas off the coast to exploration, he issued a statement typical of his draw-the-line approach: “California’s message to the Trump administration is simple: Not here, not now.” A White House spokesman declined to comment on Brown’s remarks Monday.
While Brown will surely leave a climate-change fighting legacy, he has been criticized for what critics view as an uneven record. They complain that he failed to push for bans on fracking and on the permitting of new oil and gas wells in the state. Activists are planning protests during the summit.
“This is a place where he could be on the absolute cutting edge in the next climate fight,” said Bill McKibben, an author and co-founder of the anti-carbon group 350.org. “He has been completely unwilling.”
Brown said he doesn’t think gasoline can be cut out immediately but requires an "ambitious" phase-out plan the state already has in place. California needs to focus on affordability, sustainability and feasibility in meeting its climate change goals, the governor said, warning that rash action could slow down the fight.
"If we try to just move the bus without worrying about the consequences or the sticker shock, there will be a backlash and we will lose ground instead making up the ground that we have to to get to the goal," Brown said.
There’s also debate about the impact of what California is doing as the U.S. government moves in the opposite direction. Given that it puts out less than 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, even radical change in a $2.7 trillion economy -- the state is the world’s fifth largest, behind Germany -- won’t “fundamentally move the needle,” said Severin Borenstein, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.
Still, he said, California and Brown serve as crucial role models for the possible. The state’s tailpipe-emissions limitations are among the strictest in the world, and its carbon cap-and-trade program among the most ambitious. Economic growth hasn’t suffered while the state has cut emissions. Under Brown, California set the extraordinarily ambitious goal of slashing greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels in just the next 12 years and became the first state to require solar panels on new homes.
The Brown mission on the environment began when he was a two-term governor the first time, from 1975 to 1983. In his more recent two terms, he has aggressively built on the work of his predecessor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in 2006 signed landmark legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from an array of sources in the state. Schwarzenegger is filming the latest Terminator movie in Hungary, but will send a video to the summit, a conference spokesman said.
Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat and former San Francisco mayor who has said he is in line with Brown on climate-change theories and approaches, is leading in polls to succeed the governor in the November election. In a survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California in July, 57 percent of likely voters said global warming poses a very serious threat.
Many in the state have already experienced it. The strength and scope of wildfires in California this year broke horrific records set in 2017, and scientists have concluded that was largely due to rising temperatures. The future looks bleak in many ways; two-thirds of California beaches may be washed away by the end of the century, according to the latest state Climate Change Assessment Report.
At this point, California alone “can’t solve the problem, but it can definitely help with breaking the path forward,” McKibben said. “You need people out in front breaking trail.”
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