Gov. Jerry Brown last week showed that he will not stand by and watch President Donald Trump take America down a path toward climate destruction. He has pledged that California will work with cities, states and nations to fight the preeminent threat of our time, even if it means doing so without the support of the White House.
Brown announced that California will host a global climate summit in San Francisco next year. That’s the sort of event a president and a nation might host in better times. “We in California and in states all across America believe it’s time to act, it’s time to join together and that’s why at this climate action summit we’re going to get it done,” he said.
While Brown announced plans for California to work with the world, Trump was at the G20 conference, where he reiterated his commitment to pull the United States out of the Paris agreements.
Inaction would be catastrophic. Even under the Paris climate accord, the world would have only worked to minimize the disasters. New York magazine recently described just how bad things could get for the planet if America and the world don’t act quickly and vigorously. Short version: economic collapse and mass extinction.
A single California climate summit would neither restore America’s reputation abroad nor solve the global challenge. It would, however, show the rest of the world that commitment to fighting climate change survives in America, even under Trump. It helps that California is one of the world’s 10 largest economies. What happens here matters. When California reduces its emissions, it has a measurable effect on the nation’s total emissions. More important, California can pull the rest of the nation in the right direction, but it often takes time.
The Trump administration probably won’t make it easy. For example, other states have adopted California’s stronger fuel efficiency standards. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, now could unravel them. If that happens, it won’t be the final word, only a delay in changes that even automakers know must be made.
More immediate success might come from a proposal by the governor and legislative leaders to extend California’s cap-and-trade program. The program, which state leaders are hoping to push through the state Legislature this month, requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gases. The money raised would be used to help the state meet its goals for carbon reduction.
If California and other states do not stand up for science, the environment and personal liberty, the rest of the country will have an easy time abandoning them. Keeping an issue at the forefront of the public consciousness is an essential element of long-term change.
Neither Trump nor Brown is likely to live long enough to see the worst effects of climate change. The difference between them is that Brown cares about the needs of future generations. Trump’s “America first” mentality only seems to be focused on the here and now and comes with the false premise that America can operate as an island apart from the rest of the world. Not so. Brown’s plans for a climate summit is a demonstration that California is more interested in building bridges than acting as an island — and wants to work toward solutions that will preserve the best that California and the rest of America have to offer. That’s something the rest of the country and world can get behind — for the sake of our survival.