After two days of rubbing shoulders with an international collection of politicians, Gov. Jerry Brown emerged from a climate-change conference here with new partnerships in the fight against global warming.
In a speech Wednesday to government officials and environmental advocates that capped his trip, the governor took aim at “troglodytes” who deny the threat of climate change, and insisted that all aspects of modern life must be scrutinized to save the planet.
“We have to redesign our cities, our homes, our cars, our electrical generation, our grids — all those things,” Brown said. “And it can be done with intelligence. We can get more value from less material.”
Addressing climate change, Brown said, requires reckoning with things that have made life comfortable for billions of people.
“Oil, gas, coal has created the wealth we enjoy,” he said. “What was the source of our wealth now becomes the challenge of our future.”
He criticized politicians, particularly Republicans in Congress, who refuse to take action.
“We have a lot of troglodytes south of the border,” he said.
The conference, attended by people from across the Americas and the other side of the Atlantic, was a chance to showcase California’s growing environmental reach.
Before Brown’s speech, Quebec announced it was joining a climate pact with 17 other states and provinces from North America, South America, Europe and Africa. The nonbinding agreement, announced this year in Sacramento, is aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Quebec has already partnered with California’s cap-and-trade program, in which permits to pollute are traded and fees are levied, and Ontario is planning to do the same.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who also attended the conference, is interested in joining as well, but lawmakers in his state have blocked such a move.
“We intend to continue the effort,” Inslee said, possibly through a ballot measure next year.
In California, Brown is fighting his own legislative battle to reduce gasoline use, increase energy efficiency and boost renewable energy. The bill is pending in the state Assembly, facing opposition from oil companies and skepticism from utilities.
Asked whether he thinks it will pass, Brown said, “I never want to predict, but there's some very strong legislative leadership in support of these climate goals.”
The governor was warmly received at the Toronto conference, which functioned as something of a pep rally for green-minded government officials weary of resistance to stronger action from national leaders.
Glen Murray, Ontario’s environment minister, described the event as “a great big group hug” and said Brown’s role has been “transformational.”
“He’s stepped up as a major international leader on the issue,” he said. “Certainly we couldn’t be doing this without Gov. Brown.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne thanked Brown for “modeling what we all need to be doing.”
Much of the conference was geared toward preparing for a United Nations event in Paris later this year, which is intended to forge a new global environmental accord.
Brown said in his speech that it’s important to not wait for national leaders to take action.
“The real source of climate action happens to come from states and provinces,” he said. “The real energy has to come from below.
“We’re going to build up such a drumbeat that our national counterparts, they’re going to listen,” he added.
States and provinces aren't likely to have an official voice in the Paris negotiations. But Mark Kenber, chief executive of The Climate Group, a nonprofit organization in London, hopes smaller governments can demonstrate that larger progress is possible.
“They say states are the laboratories of democracy in the U.S.,” he said. “Globally, that's certainly the case.”
Besides, Kenber said, “anyone who has followed the international climate process knows it's not exactly smooth running.”
In an interview Wednesday, Brown said he would continue to “try to build up the support level.”
“Everyone is struggling to figure out: How do you wrestle this beast to the ground? Because it’s so diffuse,” he said.
“We’re demonstrating that you can de-carbonize and improve the well-being of your state,” he added. “California is the best example. They’re all looking to California.”
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