Jerry Brown aims to lead a climate change revolution

States and provinces could lead the way on saving the planet

This week, most American news junkies have been tuned in to the emotional debate over the Confederate flag or mesmerized by Donald Trump’s hijacking of the Republican presidential contest, so a quieter news story from north of the border will not have been on their radar. Still, it’s a significant story for anyone who cares about the fate of the human race.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been in Toronto at a climate change conference for the last couple of days. He is seeking new governmental partners to join a push to reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Right now, there are 17 states and provinces in the Western Hemisphere, Africa and Europe that have pledged to make significant progress toward curbing the planet-warming pollutants between now and 2050. In Toronto, Brown added Quebec to the list with Ontario hoping to follow. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, also at the gathering, said that he wants his state to get on board as well, and that if legislators fail to go along, he will mount a statewide ballot measure.

The climate pact was announced in Sacramento earlier this year. It may not sound like such a big deal, but, given how painfully slow national governments have been in facing up to a threat that grows more frightening with each passing year, Brown believes much can be accomplished by creating a coalition of sub-national entities that get out ahead of recalcitrant national politicians.

“The real source of climate action happens to come from states and provinces,” Brown said in his conference address on Wednesday. “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.”

Brown and his allies are hoping to play an influential role when representatives of the world’s governments gather in Paris later this year for a summit on climate change. Brown plans to be there and, if he has the backing of enough state and provincial leaders from around the globe, he may get a hearing for his ideas.

That, of course, may not be enough to impel real commitments to change. In fact, given the sad record of past environmental summits, there is plenty of reason to be pessimistic. Nevertheless, the effort Brown is leading could have a positive impact. Imagine if, in the United States, a significant number of major states buy into the idea that cutting emissions is good for the country and that shifting from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources is good for the economy. It could make the deniers, foot-draggers and shills for the oil and coal companies in Washington, D.C., irrelevant.

In Toronto, Brown branded those who refuse to recognize the need for dramatic action on the climate issue “troglodytes” and insisted it was time for them to stop standing in the way. "Climate change doesn't wait for anybody," Brown said. "We're not doing enough. We're taking baby steps.”

The pact between the states and provinces may be one of those baby steps, but it has the potential to mature into something big.

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