December 9, 2015

Mark Schlosberg, Food & Water Watch

Last night something unusual happened at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris. A leading United States elected official held a free event that was open to the public: California’s Governor Jerry Brown attended a panel hosted by the Governor Climate and Forest Taskforce. Sadly, Brown used this opportunity to repeat platitudes about the need for action on the environment, while continuing to ignore the very real problems he is creating in California.

Brown began his introductory remarks by challenging the room, saying, “…unless everyone does everything they can, we won’t be able to slow down the climate change.” He implored people to “rise above our normal behavior” because “it’s going to take more than we currently can imagine” to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Backed by meaningful action, this rhetoric would certainly be welcome; but the urgency of Governor Brown’s words is not reflected in what he is currently doing in California. If Governor Brown were doing all he could, would he and his state regulators allow the continued expansion of oil drilling and fracking in California? Would he settle for allowing emissions to increase since he took office? Would he allow our groundwater and crops to be polluted with oil wastewater?

In Paris, Brown has attended mostly private events or very restricted ones in tightly controlled spaces. He has received all-star treatment from largely corporate and governmental audiences. But last night was unusual: the talk was open to the public and attended by over 40 members of the Indigenous Environmental Network and allies who directly challenged Gov. Brown around California’s cap-and-trade program as well as the Reduction of Emissions and Deforestation Degradation (REDD) initiative. These schemes rely on the market and allow pollution to be pushed onto vulnerable populations rather than doing the policy work needed to prevent pollution. REDD could allow spending to prevent future deforestation in the Amazon, for example, in a toothless attempt to offset to pollution caused by a refinery in Richmond. When confronted by these concerns, rather than engage in the issue, Brown quickly fled the room, likely en route to another corporate sponsored event.

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At some of the inside events we have been able to challenge Brown, though with many fewer people. At an event on Monday, Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter asked him directly about fracking. But Brown’s line on fracking here in Paris is similar to what it has been at home in California. In an interview with Le Monde, Gov. Brown characterized those who want him to ban fracking as extreme, shirking his responsibility to champion visionary policies that reduce demand for petroleum, saying as long as Californians continue to drive cars we should get our oil from California. Brown also said renewables are intermittent because there is no storage, and, oddly, he said that “small businesses don’t have psychic space” for the policy changes we need and that “big businesses” support action on climate.

Perhaps Governor Brown has been spending too much time with those big business representatives and not enough time with the people his policies are affecting. Perhaps he should take bold action to keep the oil beneath California in the ground and lead through actions that challenge us all to make the significant changes necessary to address the climate reality. Perhaps he should heed his own advice and do everything he can to stop climate change, including banning fracking and rejecting cap and trade and other pay to pollute schemes, and begin to match his actions to his lofty rhetoric. Or, perhaps Brown lacks the vision to truly lead on climate.

Finally, although we have been largely forbidden from assembling and holding signs in Paris, Food & Water Watch was able to send some messages loud and clear one night this week.

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As Gov. Brown heads home from Paris today, let’s hope he reflects on what it truly means to be a climate leader.

See all the pictures from Paris here.

Gov. Brown: What’s Lacking? Climate Vision or Will?