Can Jerry Brown Save The World?


Jerry Brown Oakland rally

Photo: Steve Rhodes via Flickr


Jerry Brown was livid. The four term governor is not used to losing.

Last week he had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat when a central part of his environmental legislation, SB 350, was taken out. The abandoned provision called for a 50% reduction in petroleum use by 2030. That part of the bill came under massive attack from oil lobbyists, specifically the Western States Petroleum Association. The political group had launched TV ads and mailers claiming the bill would lead to fuel rationings and a ban on SUV’s, something the bill’s backers denied. In the end, moderate Democracts in the Assembly sided with the oil lobby, forcing the bill’s authors to strip language around the gas reduction.

To be sure, the bill that eventually won approval still contains plenty for environmentalists to celebrate: it requires that half of the state’s energy come from renewables by 2030, and for a dramatic push to improve energy efficiency in older buildings.

Nevertheless, Brown isn’t used to losing. In a defiant press conference, the governor declared, “Oil has won a skirmish, but they lost a bigger battle, because I am more determined than ever to make our regulatory regime work for the people of California.”

Not long after, the California Air Resources Board delivered, as it released new rules to force oil producers to reduce amount of carbon generated by all transportation fuels in the state by at least 10% by 2020.

When it comes to climate change, Brown is looking well beyond one-off regulations or pieces of legislation. Indeed, the governor seems to have made global warming the central and enduring focus of his fourth historic term, and he is going all out.

Look at the language he uses to describe the issue:

Speaking in July on a trip to the Vatican, Brown hardly minced words: “We are talking about extinction,” he said, and that the world may have already “gone over the edge.”

Speaking recently at the UN: “California is aware…but relative to the challenge, the awareness is dim, the will is weak, and the work ahead is strenuous and requires heroic virtue to get to the finish line.”

He’s had no qualms about wading into the presidential politics, either. In the early August he demanded that the GOP presidential candidates – whom he has called “Merchants of Destruction” – lay out their plans for addressing climate change. Ben Carson, like a good Republican, recently expressed skepticism that climate change is human caused. In response, Brown sent him a thumbdrive with a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with a letter urging Carson to “use your considerable intelligence to review this material. Climate change is much bigger than partisan politics.” (Here’s that UN Report if you’re interested)



Ultimately, Brown has bigger plans than badgering a group of candidates, most of whom will fall by the wayside in a matter of months. The governor’s main priority lies with the international climate talks that will take place in Paris this coming December. In advance of that, he has been vigorously promoting what his office calls the Under 2 Degrees Memorandum of Understanding, or Under 2 MOU. This is a non-binding pact that declares a commitment to limit the increase in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius. Many scientists have warned of major environmental disruptions if temperatures rise beyond this.

So far, 38 jurisdictions have signed onto the agreement, ranging from countries such as Italy, U.S. states including Oregon, Vermont and Washington, and major metropolitan cities including New York. Together, the signees represent more than 313 million people, which, if looked at as its own country, would be the third most populous nation in the world behind China and the U.S. As the lead cheerleader for the MOU, Brown intends to build a surge of grassroots support and spur a dramatic agreement when countries meet in Paris.


Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 5.06.11 PM

The Under 2 MOU homepage

So, it appears that Brown, a man who’s political career spans nearly half a century, has decided that climate change will be his legacy issue. And it would seem that his efforts have come not a moment too soon. Extreme weather patterns have left the state he leads in the grip of a historic drought. This, in turn, has lead to rampant fires, making stretches of land particularly vulnerable to erosion and flooding when the massive El Niño storms arrive. And beyond California, climate scientists have come out saying that 2015 will be the hottest year on record, “by a mile.”

Can Jerry Brown save the world? Gotta at least give him credit for trying.


  1. med says:

    Russell Sterten: Can you say “India”? Third most populated country, really?

  2. Shell leaves the arctic alone for now kayak and jumar diplomacy wins thanks Portland! we always knew you were more than Portlandia

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