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'If Trump is left to his own devices, he will cause serious damage that will cost lives,' Gov. Brown warns

'If Trump is left to his own devices, he will cause serious damage that will cost lives,' Gov. Brown warns
California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Capitol in Sacramento. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The day President Trump pulled out of the Paris agreement on global warming, California Gov. Jerry Brown helped launch a robust movement of states, cities and businesses committed to carrying the country toward meeting its commitments. We checked in with Brown this week on how it has been going, and his assessment of the impact from Trump’s move. Here is what he had to say.

On the damage Trump is doing to efforts to curb emissions:

Trump is doing real damage to the Paris agreement by not only withdrawal, but the continuing climate denial by his appointees that undermine across a broad front Obama’s efforts at complying. He also undermines Paris by not exercising the strong voice of America in support of real climate action and, I would say, stepped-up climate action.

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It is particularly dangerous in that the efforts to carry out the Paris agreement are slowing. I would even say stalling. We need a spark plug. We need a champion from the United States. Instead we have a committed adversary working on a regular basis to undermine everything achieved in Paris.”

On the climate backlash the president has touched off:

“Trump has galvanized climate activists and leaders in [non-governmental organizations], state governments and corporations in the United States, and maybe even, elsewhere. By becoming the null hypothesis, he demonstrates the truth of the climate change threat. In doing so, he galvanizes a more activated effort on the part of people all over the world who confront the climate threat to take action.

By his making it an issue, and by the news imperative to focus on conflict, this conflict of Trump versus Paris, Trump versus climate change, acts with a catalytic force that is increasing intensity of this issue and actually encouraging climate action.

In terms of our work, the [U.S. Climate] Alliance, it’s a positive. It is now a framework in place. It is good. But given the continuing rise in carbon emissions, we have to do a lot more.

On the challenge of keeping focused:

Given the trade wars and the problems of the Middle East and the Russia drama, as well as North Korea, and all the other little issues that pop up in our American political world, climate change is getting pushed to the back burner. The buildup of CO2 is relentless. It was just reported that the emissions in China are at their highest in the last seven years, a 4% increase in the first quarter of 2018.

There is a lot to do. The challenge is getting more difficult. Even the increased effort is falling behind because the threat is getting greater on a continuing basis.

On limitations states face moving forward:

If you jump off the Empire State Building and you are falling down four stories but have 80 to go, you are not damaged yet. But it is certain you will die. He has set in motion initiatives that will cause damage. [We don’t know] how much damage, at this moment, in terms of the release of methane or other emissions, but the damage is inevitable, unless his actions can be reversed, through court action and congressional elections and a new president. If Trump is left to his own devices, he will cause serious damage that will cost lives. [It’s] not rhetoric. ... This is real. Death of people, disease, climate disruption, political turmoil, increased migration. He is contributing, not in a trivial way, to all of those very bad outcomes. It is far more serious than anybody is saying.

The world is in a stall. Emissions are going up in Germany, in Japan, in China. We are not going to meet the goal on the track that we are now on. But this track can be altered. With sufficient political change, we can get back on track.

On the prospects for limiting warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, as the Paris agreement envisions:

[Staying at] 1.5 [degrees], we may already be at that point. The 2 [degrees] we would have to make dramatic change in the next couple of years. And that change is not happening yet. That is the purpose of our [California] Climate Summit in September. It is the purpose of our “Under Two” effort. I will be speaking with Chinese representatives as well as subnational people. We have a lot to do. But unfortunately, people in Europe are worried about Italian elections. They are dealing with problems in Poland, democratic values, the whole business with Russia, the Middle East. There are lots of topics that have people fully occupied and yet climate change is relentless, continuing and I intend to do everything I can to wake up the world and wake up political leaders and make the radical change we need.

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