Gov. Brown goes to Europe
Follow this blog for updates from CALmatters reporter Julie Cart as Gov. Jerry Brown travels Europe to meet with leaders about climate change.
The camera and lights switched on and Ole Torp, the Charlie Rose of Norway, leaned in, silver hair flashing, and posed his first question to Gov. Jerry Brown.
“Is the world going to hell?”
“Yes,” Brown answered swiftly.
The interview, taped last week in Oslo, was declared a fabulous success, one the television audience would quite enjoy.
How to explain the climate-change world’s curious embrace of a man with so apocalyptic a message? On a nearly two-week swing through Europe, starting at the Vatican and ending at the United Nations climate change conference in Bonn, Brown offered a bleak appraisal of the global future: We are on a trajectory toward hell. It’s a headlong rush to a very unpleasant outcome. Mankind is on the chopping block.
Yet Brown dazzled. His message—the planet is burning up, and our oil-driven way of life must change—brought Vatican scientists to their feet. European parliamentarians in Brussels swooned, calling him a warrior. In Oslo, an international group of scientists paid Brown their highest compliment: inviting him to their inner sanctum for a day-long “dialogue,” a dreary recitation of the looming crash of spaceship Earth. Students in Stuttgart, inheritors of the mess Brown describes, mobbed the 79-year-old for selfies.
It wasn’t all adulation, all the time. A rebuke from a couple of parliamentarians in Brussels led to a sharp exchange over the effect of climate-change policies on the poor. And hecklers tried to shout down the governor during a speech in Bonn as they protested his oil policies.
But the criticism did little to deter Brown, who was on message throughout the trip: Climate change is a serious threat, California is doing its part—and, especially, come to San Francisco next year for a climate conference that gets things accomplished.
In the absence of a climate policy from the U.S. government, or a recognition that human activity has played a role in warming the world, Brown has become a de facto climate leader—Al Gore 2.0, as an Afghan journalist here observed offhandedly. During his trip, Brown was repeatedly called on to voice an opinion on President Trump’s assertion that climate change is a hoax. He told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in a taped interview Tuesday that “Trump better get on board or get out of the way.” On most other occasions, Brown largely held his fire, perhaps not wanting to give the president’s arguments any oxygen.
Mostly he focused on burnishing California’s “green” reputation—and his own, as he looks ahead to life after Sacramento, a subject he won’t go near. Read more:
Like two low-emission diesel ships passing in the hallways of sustainably constructed meeting halls, the leaders of the U.S. delegation are arriving at the U.N. climate conference in Bonn just as the California delegation is leaving.
Gov. Jerry Brown made his last speech and stood still, reluctantly, for a few final photos today before departing for home in the afternoon.
About the same time, the U.S. State Department announced that Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon—the Under Secretary for Political Affairs who was to head the U.S delegation—had a family emergency and would not attend.
He is being replaced by Judith Garber, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
Although the conference has been under way for a week and a half, the high-level negotiations are just beginning.
It is unlikely that Garber and Brown would have met, even if they had been here at the same time. The first wave of U.S. officials to arrive hosted a breakfast last week. Asked if he planned to attend, Brown said he had another commitment.
The two delegations have at least one thing in common: Both Brown and U.S. officials have had events disrupted by protesters.
What do you want to know about Gov. Jerry Brown’s European climate crusade? About the U.N. conference on climate change? About California’s moves to fight the warming of the world?
CALmatters environment reporter Julie Cart, who’s been with Brown abroad, has answers for you on Twitter today at noon PST. Tweet your queries with the hashtag #CMenviro. For 30 minutes, she’ll be there to respond.
You can read here what Julie wrote on the eve of Brown’s trip.
Anyone could have seen this coming.
The nearly-invisible U.S. delegation to the U. N. climate change conference scheduled a panel discussion touting the benefits of fossil fuels on Monday night. The closely secured event was carefully managed, with some attendees lining up 45 minutes in advance to get a seat.
As it turned out, protesters were lining up, too. As attendees filed in, a loose coalition representing environmental-justice groups and campaigners against fossil fuels surrounded the doorway and chanted, “Keep it in the ground!”–the same phrase hecklers used days earlier to protest Gov. Jerry Brown’s oil policies as the governor delivered a speech at the conference.
Once the doors were closed and the event began, demonstrators who had made it inside drowned out the proceedings with lusty singing while those outside recited: “What do we want? Environmental justice! When do we want it? Now!” The panelists—representatives of coal and nuclear energy companies—sat silently.
Outside, the chanting grew. Eventually throngs of demonstrators poured into a main hall, taking over a stage.
The protesters roared when the U.S. organizers capitulated and opened the doors to the conference room an hour before the anticipated end, releasing the attendees into a maelstrom of song and chant.
Politicians often employ props in advocacy of their projects and policies, but it’s a safe bet that not many legislators carry Barbie dolls to make their case, especially Barbie dolls with tampons affixed to their tiny torsos.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia stowed twin Barbies in her carry-on luggage en route to the U.N. climate conference in Bonn and is using them here to illustrate her campaign to end the California sales tax on tampons. Her proposal on the issue stalled this year, but the Democrat from Bell Gardens continues to argue that taxing necessities for women and children is unfair.
Walking between events Monday, Garcia placed her blonde and brunette Barbies as hood ornaments on one of the very expensive electric cars parked around the sprawling complex.
On a rare sunny day, Garcia also talked about air pollution, an issue she’s learning more about as she meets with environmental-justice groups and others at the conference.
She authored a law that passed this year as a companion to the extension of California’s cap-and-trade system for reducing carbon emissions. It calls for stricter monitoring of emissions in slow-income communities to better track public health problems.
Garcia admits the legislation does not have the teeth she intended it to and said she will make another run at the issue next year. “I expect more bills will be needed, and I’m prepared to advocate for that.”
In the meantime, she’s been hosting listening sessions around the state to hear directly from residents on how best to implement the law.
“In Oakland, it’s about the refineries,” she said. “You get to L.A. and it’s about the trucks and the cars. That’s the purpose of the bill: that we have local plans that make sense to them. There’s a long road ahead.”
On Sunday at the U.N. climate conference in Bonn, California was given an award for its new law regulating short-lived pollutants that are highly damaging to public health. The award was presented to the state and accepted by the measure’s author, Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara of Los Angeles, and Gov. Jerry Brown.
The inaugural Climate and Clean Air Award for Outstanding Policy is for the state’s leadership in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
The ceremony was hosted by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a U.N.-affiliated international consortium of governments, businesses, advocacy organizations and scientific institutions focused on the issue of short-lived “super-pollutants.” The state Legislature and the Air Resources Board were also recognized for their work to reduce the powerful pollutants.
Lara’s law sets targets for emissions reductions throughout California, including 50 percent reduction in black carbon, 40 percent reduction in methane and 40 percent in hydroflurocarbon by 2030, using 2013 levels as a starting point.
Brown made brief remarks at the award ceremony. Lara joined a panel of other recipients to discuss their work.
They were not the only Californians to receive awards here. Fetzer Vineyards in Mendocino County was recognized for being the first winery in the state to operate on 100 percent renewable energy and the first Zero Waste-certified winery in the world.
Last year the company composted, recycled or otherwise repurposed 99.2 percent of its solid waste, according to a U.N. description of Fetzer’s achievement.
That award, known as the U.N. Climate Solutions Award, also known as the Momentum for Change initiative, recognizes businesses and individuals who innovate to combat climate change.
After a week of nearly unabashed adulation from European hosts in four countries, Gov. Jerry Brown got a reminder Saturday of the more rough-and tumble handling he receives at home.
Brown had barely begun a speech in his first formal appearance in Bonn at the U.N. climate-change summit when a small cluster of Californians began a demonstration, holding banners and shouting, “Leave it in the ground!”—a reference to oil and gas extraction activities that pollute low-income neighborhoods.
The group, which did not identify itself, called Brown a hypocrite for bragging about the strictness of California’s environmental regulations while fostering the extraction of highly polluting crude oil, and for his support of fracking.
A report from the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, released on the eve of the U.N. conference, concluded that about 75% of the oil coming out of California is as climate-damaging as Canadian tar sands crude.
Brown attempted to continue his speech, even adopting the demonstrators’ language at one point and attempting to engage the handful of hecklers in a dialogue.
“I agree with you: ‘In the ground,’ ” Brown said. “Let’s put you in the ground so we can get on with the show here.”
The group was eventually escorted out of the room.
Asked later about the episode, Brown, who has encountered other hecklers in his long political career, replied, “No comment.”
Brown’s speech (beginning at 1:05:59) was about the coalition of cities, states, provinces and countries that have signed on to an agreement to curb carbon emissions.
As part of his European tour promoting the fight against climate change, Gov. Jerry Brown was invited to meet with an international group of scientists in Oslo, Norway. They discussed ways of integrating research into climate policy and how elected officials can convey the complexities of climate change to voters.
Here’s some of what Brown had to say:
This is “Gov. Brown confers with scientists” by CALmatters on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.
Reporters covering Jerry Brown should get college credit.
The governor regularly quotes Virgil, lapses into Latin, expounds on obscure historical figures and quotes from books he’s read. It’s difficult to keep up.
Yes, Brown is an anomaly among politicians. That’s part of his appeal as he rambles through Europe discussing climate change.
At every stop someone remarks to him: “You are so straightforward,” or, “You have been very clear, thank you,” or, after an especially forceful Brown table-thumping about our frying planet, “Thank you,” gulp, “for your honesty.”
From a nation that perfected the slick political operative, Brown comes across as the anti-politician. He doesn’t smile. You know he’s thinking when his eyebrows collide and he begins to frown. He hasn’t been looking questioners in the eye much here, instead busying himself jotting notes. He wears nice suits, slightly rumpled. His pocket square often droops and slips out of sight by the end of the day.
From the Vatican to the European Parliament to countless meetings with political and cultural leaders, the governor has been greeted as an oracle. Thursday’s event, a forum on climate issues, was in Brussels, hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an American think tank.
Brown pleaded for action in the fight against a warming world, as he has just about every day on this trip. Answering wide-ranging and thoughtful questions, he pulled in references from economic theory, current international events and the latest thinking on the nuclear threat.
At a press conference with European correspondents afterward, Brown snatched a reporter’s notebook and sketched out Cartesian coordinates—an X-Y axis graph—to make a point. He held it up to show those in the back. Something about closing the gap between the Power Curve and the Wisdom Curve. He went on, the reporters mostly nodding vacantly.
One correspondent asked: You’ve said you don’t have the patience for bureaucracy, and here we are at the seat of the European Parliament, the most complex bureaucracy the world has ever known. Is the world governance structure adequate to dealing with the complexities of climate change?
That unleashed an exposition on the Byzantine Empire.
“Bureaucracy is better than war,” Brown said, leaning forward, jabbing a forefinger into the conference table. “Don’t get bogged don’t on these abstruse processes. That’s better than exchanging bullets.
“Climate change is complex,” he went on. “Dealing with it through this Byzantine system you Europeans have created—I don’t have an answer other than the Byzantine Empire lasted longer than almost any other empire, and had a stable currency longer.
“So don’t put down Byzantine structures. They have a good historical track record.”
After five days of diplomatic-style meetings with European leaders and their ever-present translators, Gov. Jerry Brown found a venue where people speak a common language: politics.
In a lively and frank discussion with members of the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, Brown fielded questions from elected officials who mostly praised California’s accomplishments in combating climate change and marveled at the political muscle it required. But the governor also took some heat.
Brown described the effort it took for the Legislature to reauthorize a 10-year extension of California’s cap-and-trade carbon-reduction program in July with a two-thirds vote. He said that, despite appearances, there is a great deal of complacency in the state on the issue of climate change. Cap and trade is a highly partisan subject, the governor said, yet the renewal bill passed because eight Republicans supported it.
“And one of them was voted out as a leader,” Brown said, referring to Yucca Valley Assemblyman Chad Mayes. “So I guess there’s a price to pay.”
There were a handful of impassioned challenges to Brown’s dire warnings about the danger of inaction on climate change. One member denounced the “cult of climate change” and refuted the science.
Another member, Steven Woolfe, representing the United Kingdom, mocked Brown’s “rapturous welcome” from the Parliament, then launched into a lacerating attack on California’s climate policies, which he suggested were disproportionately harming lower-income people by raising the cost of living.
Brown answered sharply, saying to the skeptics in the room, “You are dead wrong. The crocodile tears you shed for the poor are not convincing, not convincing at all.”
Woolfe shot back, “That’s disgraceful. Take that back.” (Brown didn’t.)
Woolfe, who live-tweeted during the debate, termed the exchange a “verbal dispute” and maintained that Brown’s policies had reduced 40 percent of California’s population to living in poverty. The parliamentarian is a member of Britain’s Independent Party, led by Nigel Farage, whose “Euroskepticism” drove the vote for the country to leave the European Union.
The question-and-answer session morphed into a couple of hours in which members picked Brown’s political brain, seeking practical solutions to what some Europeans consider to be intractable problems. In particular, policymakers are wrestling with the question of how to reduce automobile emissions and encourage adoption of electric vehicles.
Claude Turmes, a member from Luxembourg, brought up to the inability of the Parliament to develop a meaningful framework of fines for damaging emissions but have been experiencing pushback from automobile manufacturers. Turmes was referring to the large fine levied on German car maker Volkswagen, for installing devices to defeat emission tests. California received more than $1 billion in a settlement.
“We have a car industry problem; can you give us some advice,” Turmes said. “What is the trick to work with the car lobby? You must have a trick.”
Brown replied: “It’s easy; we fine German car makers. They don’t vote.”
Gov. Jerry Brown’s popularity with European officials is high, and his staff has to choose which events, among the many on offer, he attends. But Brown’s broader name recognition may be another matter.
The governor’s appearance at the Baden-Württemberg state Parliament in Stuttgart on Wednesday morning to talk about climate change coincided with a program bringing students to the German state’s capital to observe government in action.
Two students on hand were excited to watch Brown’s address but admitted to turning to the internet to learn who, exactly, he was.
“Some people were thinking that it would be Arnold Schwarzenegger,” said Janina Bauer, one of those in attendance.
Her friend, Fiona Breucker, admitted: “We Googled him, of course.”