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Brown Addresses European Union Leaders In Belgium

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Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown pushed for greater climate collaboration between California and the European Union in remarks to hundreds of members of the European Parliament and European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.

Brown was Wednesday’s KVML “Newsmaker of the Day”. Here are his words:

Here is the full text of Gov Brown’s remarks at the European Parliament and European Commission Joint Conference:

“Thank you. I appreciate very much the opportunity to speak here this morning. This meeting is similar to many meetings going on throughout Europe and the United States and other parts of the world.

We are truly facing a challenge unprecedented in human history. There’s a lot of talk about climate change but grasping its essential nature is profoundly important. This is not just another problem. This is the threat that our existing way of life will be totally disrupted in ways that will be catastrophic. This is not just another issue that elected officials have to deal with – this is one of the few existential threats that will determine our future. And not in a hundred years, much sooner than that.

The effects of a warming climate are already here. I saw the fires in California, the horror that drove people from their homes, with 80-mile-an-hour winds, with a humidity level reaching almost zero and the thousands and thousands of homes that were destroyed in a matter of hours. California used to have a fire season as we called it, that would be a few months during the summer. Now we are fighting fires virtually the entire year. The climate is changing and it’s changing in different places at different rates. Closer to the Arctic Circle the temperature is rising two to three times what it is at this place in Europe and in California but nevertheless, it’s rising quite a lot.

As someone involved in the political process for a very long time – in fact I don’t even like to think how long – I was reflecting this morning before I came that I gave my first political speech 50 years ago, in opposition to the Vietnam War – 1967. Since that time, a lot has happened. So I have a certain perspective on politics, on the issues that constitute our politics. It’s very hard to deal with the big threats. Most of our time, our media attention are with the little issues. What is called in America “the news of the day,” that’s what people want comment on. But the news of the day doesn’t capture the full dimension of what the great threats are. The threats of a nuclear accident or exchange, the threat of climate change and increasingly, the consequences of climate change. In Europe, you’re seeing dramatically increased migrations as the climate warms the numbers of migrants, the numbers of people on the move will escalate significantly. It will compound all our problems.

We know these things but in the sterile numbers that we talk about, investment, or we talk about climate impacts, we sometimes miss the human impact that’s here right now. The human impact on health, on disease, on heart disease, on cancer, on asthma, this is affecting people right now, millions of people. And of course, it’s affecting poor people the most. So not only are we destroying the environment, not only are we fostering the extinction of species, but we’re exacerbating the inequality, the gap between those who have much and those who have virtually nothing. So that’s why I say this is an existential threat – politically, climatologically, health-wise, in every way that we can characterize a challenge, climate change meets that test. So I want to just emphasize that.

Next, I want to say that California is dealing with this threat. We in America have a federal system. There’s a certain measure of subsidiarity and the state and in this case, the State of California, has regulatory and taxing power. And in light of those powers, California has carved out a unique path. Twenty-seven percent of our electricity is renewable, no carbon – 27 percent. That doesn’t count nuclear, which is 2,000 megawatts and hydro, which adds another 15-17 percent. So if you add those two sources, the zero-carbon electricity is approximately 50 percent. Our goal is to increase that in the next twelve years so that we will be at 50 percent not counting nuclear or hydroelectric.

Those are very ambitious goals and we’re meeting them. And I will say that a few years ago, the private electric companies said that California could not achieve 20 percent renewable electricity by 2020, but they were wrong – we’ve already achieved 27 percent. One of our utilities in San Diego has achieved 40 percent. These are significant private enterprises that are able to meet the challenge through their own investments. Of course, to make that work, the law requires that a certain percentage of electricity be renewable. That number has to be 50 percent by 2030 so the electric companies have to enter into contracts to buy solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and other forms of renewable energy. And when they sign those long contracts, 20 years, then individual entrepreneurs and companies can go finance the building of these renewable projects, of which we have a lot. Of course, I noticed you too set efficiency as the first goal and we are aiming to dramatically increase our efficiency and I can tell you from personal experience, there is so much to be done here.

In the first building standards, the standards for buildings of all kinds were promulgated in California in 1982. Every five to ten years those standards are tightened. Now California has the most efficient buildings of any state. We’ve done that with an economy that is growing faster than the national average. So we have efficiency standards for buildings, we have efficiency standards for appliances. We have a very tight standard on emissions. In fact, these emission standards which were unique to California have now been adopted under the Obama Administration by the federal government. Of course, now there are efforts to roll them back, but we believe we can continue bringing down emissions from our vehicles — trucks, as well as cars — and that we can introduce at an increasing speed electric vehicles. In that effort, the commitment of China to require a fixed and growing percentage of electric cars on the part of European, American and other automobile companies means there is no turning back.

We have to move to a decarbonized transportation sector and we’re going to get there quicker than a lot of people are expecting. In addition to these regulatory measures, which are crucial, you need a regulation or the economy, the private sector won’t respond. We do have an emissions trading system. We call it cap-and-trade.

That emission trading system has now been renewed. It will extend to 2030. It generates billions of dollars a year from the allowances that are purchased. It covers the oil industry. It covers the cement industry. It covers the electric industry. It’s very encompassing and that renewal measure — which was just voted on a few months ago — was supported by the major industries in California. It was not opposed by business, it was embraced. Now it was embraced for a very simple reason. In the previous year, California had adopted a limit on emissions, a limit that would each year become more stringent. Because industry did not want to be ruled so much by regulation, they embraced the trading system that we call cap-and-trade, which is very similar to your emissions trading scheme.

I would hope that we could explore linking California and the European Union. We are already linked with Quebec. We are about to be joined by Ontario. Other states are also considering joining. That would be a concrete investment kind of move that California and other states and provinces could become a part of.

So, let me just conclude by saying investment and capital are very important, but when you consider the alternative of not doing enough, money is not the principal problem. The principal problem is vision. It’s clarity about our current state. We all know that the reality of climate change is not adequately accepted in the sense that our response is commensurate with the threat. The European Union has to do more. California has to do more. The whole world has to do more.

Just as you have difficulties in bringing together the 28 nations of the European Union, we also have even greater difficulty in bringing together the nations of the world — the United States, China, Russia, the European Union. Climate change is a threat to all of humanity, to all species and it can only be solved by a global cooperative effort. It must be far greater than it is today. Much greater. How we get there is not just by the mechanics of politics, it will require a transformation in our thinking, in our values and our whole way of life.

We live in a world that has been created by oil, gas and coal. Fossil fuels have shaped our very civilization. Now we have to completely transform to a zero-carbon world. We have to do it faster than most people are probably thinking about. 2050 is too late. We’re going to have to do it quicker. And we get to zero then we have to extract carbon out of the environment. We have to get to minus. We got to get there a lot faster. We’ll get there if we focus on some of the short-lived climate pollutants, like carbon and methane. Extracting them and reducing that emission will give us more time to get to our goal. We’re almost at 1.5 degrees centigrade already.

I would say complacency, indifference and inertia are very much the order of the day. To overcome that I think of when a rocket ship leaves the gravity sink of earth, the amount of energy that it takes to be launched into orbit it tremendous. It would have been unimaginable a hundred years ago, but we do it. The energy, the psychic, spiritual and human energy we need to reach the level that we are actually decarbonizing is far greater than we are today.

My message is very simple: We can do it, we’re not doing it yet, but if we come together and we see the truth of our situation we can overcome it. We’ve fought great battles before. I hope the European Union will be able to inspire the rest of the world. I know you don’t all agree among yourselves. In America, we don’t all agree among ourselves, but people in cities, in states, corporations, universities and nonprofit organizations are joining together. We’re not waiting.

We need from the top-down what we need from the bottom-up. Together, we will come together to transform our world and make it truly livable, sustainable and utterly human for the rest of our descendants and those who are here to follow. Thank you very much.”

  • Jerry Brown