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Think like Gandhi, Jerry Brown urges leaders at Vatican climate conference

Think like Gandhi, Jerry Brown urges leaders at Vatican climate conference
Gov. Jerry Brown, left, Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino, center, and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio during a conference on climate change and modern slavery at the Vatican on Wednesday. (GIUSEPPE LAMI / EPA)

Jerry Brown on Wednesday urged the world's mayors to emulate Mahatma Gandhi and the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ as they fight to halt climate change and win over skeptics.

In his speech at the second day of a conference on global warming hosted at the Vatican by Pope Francis, the California governor urged the mayors in the audience to "think of those instances where radical change occurred."

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"And being right here in Rome where we can walk through the ruins of a great Roman Empire gives us an example," he said. "It was defeated not by another empire, but by 12 Galileans who had no money, who didn't even speak Latin but who began the process of taking down the Roman Empire and replacing it with Christianity."

Brown said Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi also overcame the seemingly impossible by throwing the once-powerful British Empire out of India, despite being dismissed by critics such as Winston Churchill, who later became the British prime minister.

"It was a man who just had a little cloth on, who used to go around in his underwear," Brown said. "Mr. Gandhi who, I think, Churchill was rather contemptuous of. And yet, Gandhi speaks more to where we are than Mr. Churchill or any of the other politicians."

Columbia University economist Jeffery Sachs, an expert on sustainable development who spoke before Brown at the conference, called for the world to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2070. Sachs supported Pope Francis's call for market capitalism to be tempered by moral considerations about damage to the environment.

Brown urged his audience to "reflect, meditate and disseminate" on what Sachs said "because that will be the basis of the change that we must become so the world itself will change with us."

Brown told the audience they must assume the world was ignoring climate change.

"Even to talk about it makes you sound like a crank or a nut," Brown said. "That's why I was very glad that Jeffrey Sachs said it and I didn't, because if I said that they would say, 'There goes Gov. Moonbeam again. This is not the world that we live in.' But in fact, it is the world we live in."

At the opening session of the conference on Tuesday, attended by about 60 mayors, Pope Francis urged the United Nations to sign a binding deal on tackling climate change at a Paris summit in December.

The mayors, as well as Brown, signed a declaration stating that the summit could be "the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2 degrees centigrade."

During a speech on Tuesday, Brown criticized climate change skeptics as well-funded "troglodytes" and highlighted California's track record on cutting emissions.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, who attended the conference, praised Brown for his environmental accomplishments in his speech on Tuesday and said New York would follow California's example by cutting emissions by 40% from their 1990 level by 2030.

In a frescoed room next to the conference hall at the Vatican on Wednesday, Brown and De Blasio held a private meeting to discuss climate change — the first time the two men had met.

"He is open and interested in collaborating not just with California but with all the people we are collaborating with," Brown said after the meeting.

Before the conference on Wednesday, Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, took a tour of the Sistine Chapel before it opened to the public.

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