When President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, it stunned the world. But it also had a less predictable effect: turning California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) into Trump’s antithesis and furthering his own climate-crusading agenda.
Or so Brown claims. “If anything, the Trump imperative going in the opposite direction is a stimulus,” Brown said in a recent interview with The Washington Post’s David Bruns. “It’s a goad, it’s a pressure. … In a way, it’s a rising of or raising of awareness that’s actually making my agenda stronger and more resonant with the people of California.”
Known as “Governor Moonbeam,” in part because of his passion for space exploration during his first two terms as governor in the 1970s, Brown has been an environmentalist and science aficionado for decades. He ran unsuccessfully for resident in 1980 with the slogan, “Protect the Earth, serve the people, explore the universe.”
During Brown’s more recent two terms, California has been a powerhouse in promoting the spread of electric cars and renewable energy, and the state recently extended its ambitious cap-and-trade program.
Brown has also been involved in promoting the Under2 Coalition, an alliance of cities and states around the world committed to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions to help keep the climate’s warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Shortly after Trump’s election, amid fears about cuts to scientific research, Brown’s comment that “if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite” reverberated in climate and scientific circles.
Following Trump’s Paris climate deal withdrawal, Brown took a five day trip to China to promote clean energy and climate action, meeting President Xi Jinping, and also launched (with several other state and city leaders) the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is a way of staying committed to the Paris deal through the actions of U.S. state and local actors. Next up: A global summit in California next year to focus on climate change.
In his interview with The Post, Brown argued there was more interest now in climate change because of Trump’s actions.
“The fact that Trump is the null hypothesis, he’s saying there is no climate change, it’s a hoax,” said Brown. “So that sets up an antinomy, a contradiction. And because of that what California is doing is more salient. People are paying attention. People are more concerned because now they see, oh what Trump is saying – that’s not right.”
And he insisted that climate change was a serious danger.
“There are scientists who predicted that humanity will have a very hard time being around after the 21st century because not just of climate change but nuclear and other kinds of technologies that could get out of hand,” he said. “If we lack the morality, the wisdom and the collective self-restraint to manage what is becoming the aggregation of the most unimaginable power that any species has ever possessed.”
He depicted the decarbonization of the world economy as one of the greatest economic and technological challenges of our time.
“We’re going to radically transform the very basis of who and what we are,” he said. “That’s big. That’s what you say we’re facing a wall of inertia and to overcome that step by step takes clarity takes science takes technology and takes enlightened leadership and the ability and willingness of people to follow and to do what they have to do.”
With Trump’s Paris climate pact withdrawal, China and other countries are now poised to lead that transformation, rather than the United States, Brown said.
“America is fiddling around now,” said Brown. “It’s goofing off in many respects and the people in Washington are taking almost a perverse pleasure in roasting Trump through these inquiries. But at the end of the day America has to have a president. And America has to have a focus and that same level of determination that the Chinese are exhibiting.”