By Keith Fowler / SD350.org
On the eve of a critical UN global climate summit in Paris in December, Governor Jerry Brown, a self-described environmentalist and green economy advocate, needs to bring California’s economic policies into alignment with his strong climate change statements.
Governor Brown has been sending citizens mixed messages. Despite signing an Executive Order earlier this year calling for a reduction in California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, he continues to refuse to place a state moratorium on the dangerous practice of fracking. Despite declaring at the Vatican in July of this year that climate change is serious enough to be “about extinction,” Governor Brown still accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Big Oil, an industry that continues on its mission to extract and emit every last barrel of oil regardless of ecological consequences.
President Obama’s invitation to the governor to join him as part of the U.S. delegation traveling to Paris offers Brown the opportunity for bold action. Obama’s recent decisions to halt further construction on the Keystone XL pipeline and to attend the Paris conference are both evidence of his desire to be seen as a promoter of green, clean energy and climate change mitigation. For Brown the same opportunity beckons.
We Californians also have a duty regarding these critical talks: We must pressure Brown on two levels. First, we should communicate to him and the other U.S. delegates that we know the critical nature of this summit at this juncture in history, and that we expect our government to do what it takes to ensure a successful outcome. Second, we must provide vital political and moral pressure by letting him know that he has the public support necessary to end oil and gas expansion in his home state, especially extreme extraction methods like fracking.
A powerful way for us San Diegans to do our bit is to attend the Paris Climate Talks Solidarity Mobilization on Sunday December 12th at 12pm, which starts in Balboa Park at 6th Avenue and Laurel Street. There is perhaps no more powerful, peaceful way to bring about social change than taking to the streets. The nation has a long and vital history of mass actions succeeding in influencing politicians, reminding them who they serve.
In light of the horrific attacks in Paris on November 13th, President Hollande’s government has taken the extraordinary step of banning all marches, mass actions and “outdoor activities” during the summit. This is terrible news because those most impacted by climate change, those from smaller and less wealthy nations, would have had a voice in these parallel actions. They would have reminded the world’s media that climate change itself is an act of violence against those who suffer its man-made consequences. The ban on public demonstrations in Paris during the talks makes it all the more imperative that we with the freedom to do so take to the streets and let our voices be heard by those in power in France and beyond.
Since the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992, the nations of the world have been meeting, discussing, and wringing their hands about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Yet they’ve never successfully emerged from talks with an agreed-upon treaty that is universally ratified and binding. At the 1997 conference in Kyoto, a formal treaty was drawn up which specified emission reduction targets, but it was not ratified by Russia until 2004 and never ratified by the USA.
As the world’s largest economy based on GDP, America must not only be inside the room this time but leading the drive towards an agreement. California alone has the world’s 8th largest economy. It is, therefore, crucial for Governor Brown to fulfill his duty as both a self-avowed environmental leader and an influential, veteran politician. He has the vision to see that acting on climate is not only an environmental issue, but also an economic and social issue. The potential of the green economy, and the attendant benefits to society and general wellness can be seen in countries that have already fully embraced sustainability, such as Iceland and other Scandinavian nations.
The world’s leading scientists met in Paris recently as one of the many warm-up conferences for the Paris summit. World leaders including Governor Brown were sent a very clear message. In the communique issued by the conference, the scientific community warned that the opportunity to avert catastrophe is disappearing fast. Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who is the scientific advisor to the German government and to Pope Francis, was quoted as saying “In the end it is a moral decision. Do you want to be part of the generation that screwed up the planet for the next 1,000 years?”
It is encouraging that the biggest global emitters of greenhouse gasses have already committed to targeted cuts, which are known in UN jargon as INDCs, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. The EU will cut its emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. The US will cut its emissions by 26% – 28%, compared with 2005 levels, by 2025. China has agreed that its emissions will peak by 2030.
Unfortunately, there are two problems to be overcome: First, the major obstacle to a treaty being signed in Paris is the promised flow of money from the largest and richest countries to smaller developing nations — roughly $100 billion annually. These funds are intended to help them develop clean renewable energy infrastructure and to pay for the damaging effects of climate change. There is serious contention regarding who should pay for this, with governments wanting large multinational corporations to pay their share.
The other problem is that the likely cuts in emissions (INDCs), will not be enough to keep the earth’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees C, which the scientific community points to as the absolute limit if we are to prevent irreversible ecological doom. Taking heed, the UN insists that we also need “non-state actors”, such as cities and businesses, to do their part.
Which brings us back to Governor Brown and us here in California. We must help him become that rare item, a politician whose words and deeds are in complete alignment. Let’s cheer him on as he uses his voice and negotiation skills in Paris to ensure that the financial elements of the treaty are hammered out so that, finally, a global binding agreement on climate change is reached and ratified.
Back home in California, let’s provide him with the political capital needed – vocal and widespread support – as he provides increased subsidies and support for the renewable energy economy. Let’s show backbone as New Yorkers did in demanding and securing the moratorium and ban on fracking they so desperately need to protect their vital resources of air and water. It’s an exciting opportunity and one which, if seized, will provide healing and health — not just to Governor Brown, not just to the citizens of California, but to those unborn generations who need us to leave them a viable and habitable planet.
To support bolder action on climate change, contact Governor Brown via email on the governor’s contact page.
Keith Fowler is a humanities teacher and an SD350 volunteer, who focuses his efforts on opposing fracking in California.