Why Governor Jerry Brown Was Booed at the Bonn Climate Summit (New Yorker)

Why Governor Jerry Brown Was Booed at the Bonn Climate Summit


Spare a little pity for Jerry Brown. The California governor has been
standing up admirably to Donald Trump on many issues, but especially on
climate change—even threatening to launch scientific satellites to replace the ones that Washington wants to ground.
This week, he’s in Bonn, Germany, at the global climate talks,
spearheading the drive to show that America’s states and cities have not
forsaken the promises made last year in Paris. On Saturday, barely a minute into his big prime-time talk, Brown was
rewarded for his pains with booing. He was visibly startled when
demonstrators interrupted his speech and began chanting, “Keep it in the

Pity him, then, but not too much. For one thing, Brown responded to the
challenge Trumpishly—“let’s put you in the ground,” he told the
protesters, who were led by indigenous and climate-justice activists.
And, for another, they were absolutely right; their slogans illustrated
the contradiction at the heart of the planet’s climate policy, one that
Brown, if he wanted to, could play a key role in solving.

There are two halves to the climate dilemma: demand and supply. We use
too much coal and gas and oil, and we’ve begun to address that through
the rapid adoption of renewable energy, the spread of conservation
measures, and ideas such as a price on carbon. Brown’s California has
been a leader in much of this work. But we also produce too much
fossil fuel, and that endless production makes it harder to drive down
demand. In fact, it will make it impossible to meet even the modest
goals of the Paris accords. A remarkable study,
published last year by Oil Change International, found that the world’s
developed oil and gas fields—the ones we’re already pumping—contain
enough carbon to carry us past the 1.5-degree-Celsius temperature
increase agreed to in Paris. (Add coal to the mix and we go way past two
degrees, without ever discovering another seam or field.) That’s why
campaigners from around the world, meeting in Lofoten, Norway, this
summer, signed a declaration calling on governments to begin the
managed decline” of the
world’s fossil-fuel-production zones.

Five hundred N.G.O.s—including 350.org, which I helped found—have signed
that declaration, but not many political leaders. In fact, heads of
governments tend to fall into one of two camps. The first, populated
largely by Trump and his followers, sees climate change as nonsense and
aims to increase both supply and demand. The other, which includes
everyone from Barack Obama to Canada’s Justin Trudeau to Brown, offers
inspiring rhetoric on fighting global warming but refuses to rein in
fossil-fuel exploration and development. Trudeau, for instance, said at
an oil-and-gas conference in Texas this year that “no country would find
a hundred and seventy-three billion barrels of oil in the ground and
leave them there,” a reference to Alberta’s tar sands. Give Trudeau high
marks for honesty—he’s gone all out to build the pipelines necessary to drain that oil—but low marks for
math. There’s no way to burn those hundred and seventy-three billion
barrels without overwhelming the atmosphere; they would take us thirty
per cent of the way to 1.5 degrees, and that from a nation with less
than one per cent of the planet’s population.

California is a big oil-and-gas producer, too—the third largest in the
United States—and Brown has so far declined to curtail even fracking and
urban drilling, the dirtiest and most dangerous kinds. In his Bonn
speech, he offered the most tired of explanations: “If I could turn off
the oil today, thirty-two million vehicles would stop, and ten million
jobs would be destroyed overnight.” But, of course, no one is talking
about turning off the flow of oil overnight. That’s the point of
“managed decline”—an orderly retreat from the fossil-fuel precipice.
And, in truth, no one is better situated than Brown to lead it.
California doesn’t depend on oil and gas the way that, say, Russia or
Saudi Arabia or Oklahoma does; the state is full of the world’s most
vigorous entrepreneurs, many of them making fortunes on the energy

And then there’s the fact that Brown is on the way out, term-limited and
hence insulated from the political power of the fossil-fuel industry. He
could do his successor—and the rest of the world—a huge favor by, for
instance, announcing that California will no longer grant new permits
for exploration or major infrastructure development. Such a commitment
would shut down nothing except the petroleum industry’s scientifically and economically flawed assumption that it can maintain its business model indefinitely.

The pressure is not just on Brown. Over the weekend, climate activists
occupied a German coalfield, and there are increasing calls on
Chancellor Angela Merkel to announce a phase-out of coal mining before
the Bonn summit wraps up, at the end of this week. Merkel has been
pretty steadfast on climate policy, so she might do it. But Brown is
something different: he aspires to lead Earth’s fight against climate
change, having called a huge conference next autumn, in San Francisco,
of governors, mayors, and other “subnational actors” from around the
world. That could really be a turning point in the battle, and a way to
bypass Trump—but only if Brown and others are willing to get serious
about supply as well as demand.


via New Yorker http://bit.ly/2v93nIt

November 13, 2017 at 01:13PM