California Gov. Jerry Brown delivers a blunt climate change message in Germany

People walk past the "Climate Planet," an exhibition sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, near the plenary halls of the COP 23 United Nations Climate Change Conference on Nov. 6 in Bonn.
(Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

Taking his crusade against climate change to the capital of Germany’s car-making heartland on his whirlwind tour of Europe, Gov. Jerry Brown warned Wednesday the whole world needs to wake up to the perils of warming temperatures and promised the United States would one day be back to work on global solutions with the international community.

In the middle of a 10-day visit to four countries en route to a major United Nations conference on climate change in Bonn, Brown used blunt language in an address to lawmakers in the Baden-Wuerttemberg state assembly in Stuttgart to make his case that stronger action is needed to fight a global rise in temperatures.

“Human civilization is on the chopping block — that’s a big thought,” said Brown, governor of the most populous U.S. state.


Brown has been hailed in German media as the “anti-Trump” for his efforts to keep the United States engaged in the 2015 Paris agreement’s commitments to cut greenhouse emissions. President Trump has expressed doubt about climate change and announced the U.S. would leave the accord in 2020, arguing it was detrimental to U.S. businesses. The Trump administration questioned how much human activity has contributed to climate change.

“It’s hard to get your mind around something so extensive,” said Brown, who was appointed by Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, the U.N. conference president, to serve as a special advisor for states and regions that have assumed an increasingly important role after Trump’s vow to leave the Paris accord.

Brown — who has already made stops to talk about climate change at the Vatican and Brussels and plans to visit Oslo on Friday before arriving in Bonn on Saturday — said there was a lack of leadership on the issue, even though California has joined forces with Baden-Wuerttemberg to create the Under 2 Coalition, which includes 188 cities, states and other jurisdictions around the world representing more than 1.2 billion people committed to curbing carbon dioxide emissions and limiting global warming to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius.

“Unfortunately, no one’s in charge — everyone is creating the problem, and unless everyone contributes to the solution, then the job won’t get done,” Brown said to applause from the lawmakers in Stuttgart, home to two of Germany’s biggest carmakers, Daimler and Porsche. “So if Germany does a good job, but China doesn’t, we’re not accomplishing anything. If the United States does something, but India doesn’t go with it, it won’t solve the problem.”

Taking aim at those who doubt the scientific research on global warming but without mentioning Trump by name, Brown spoke with authority on ideas such as looming “tipping points” for climate change that warmed the hearts of the lawmakers in one of Germany’s most important industrial states — the country is Europe’s largest economy and a leader in the fight against climate change.

“We don’t know the exact timing or the magnitude of the global warming threat,” he said. “We know it’s a problem. We know it’s huge. We know we can’t stop it. We have to wake up Europe, and wake up America, and wake up the whole world to realize that we have a common destiny and what’s at stake.


“Let’s lead the whole world to realize this is not your normal political challenge,” he added. “This is much bigger. This is life itself. It requires courage and imagination.”

Even though the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg is traditionally a conservative party bastion and home to some of the country’s biggest companies, it has nevertheless been ruled since 2011 by the pro-environment Greens party, which has been a force behind Germany’s efforts to derive more than a third of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

Brown, who also promised “we’ll be back” in the Paris climate agreement, drew his strongest applause from the 143 members of the state assembly for his clarion call to put the environment ahead of business interests even if there was nothing wrong with getting into the business of protecting the environment.

“Ecology is more fundamental than economics,” he said after talking about the common origins of the two words. “Economics is inside ecology and not the other way around.”

Nearly 200 nations are taking part in the U.N. climate change talks in Bonn that started Monday and run to Nov. 17. Despite strains caused by Trump’s decision, delegates will work on a detailed set of rules to help guide forward the 2015 Paris climate agreement that established a goal of ending the fossil-fuel era by the end of the century.

At the first of 15 events Brown is attending in Bonn in four days, he and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-founders of the America’s Pledge alliance, will take part in a panel discussion at the conference Saturday.


Kirschbaum is a Times special correspondent.