SAN FRANCISCO — When Gov. Jerry Brown said California should launch its own satellite in the 1970s, the plan was considered so far-fetched that critics dubbed him Gov. Moonbeam.
But on Friday, Gov. Moonbeam struck back. Brown concluded his climate change summit promising the state would send its own satellite into orbit to track the formation of pollutants that cause climate change.
The announcement was the most audacious of dozens of pledges political and business leaders made at a conference that sent a clear signal to the world: Either get on board with the fast-moving transition or get left behind.
“We’re under attack by a lot of people, including Donald Trump, but the climate threat still keeps growing,” Brown said as he capped off the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. “So we want to know what the hell’s going on, all over the world, all the time. So we’re going to launch our own satellite, our own damn satellite, to figure out where the pollution is and how are we going to end it.”
A statement from his office said the initiative will make it possible to “pinpoint — and stop — destructive emissions on a scale that’s never been done before.”
If there was one obvious takeaway from this unprecedented gathering of leaders from local, state and foreign governments as well as the private sector, it was that they are not going to let Washington impede their plans. The attendees made clear they intend to carry the world toward meeting the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change — which President Donald Trump has disavowed — even if it means states must launch their own space programs.
The landmark summit also aimed to put on notice leaders in the public and private sector hedging on climate action, giving them warning that they could face consequences more immediate than a warmer planet some decades from now. They also risk short-term stagnation, economic and environmental.
The governor’s summit — and the Trump administration’s reluctance to pursue robust climate research — opened the door wide for Brown to pull a version of his satellite idea out of the archives and announce what would be California’s first space launch.
The state will develop the satellite with the San Francisco-based Earth imaging company Planet Labs, a company founded by ex-NASA scientists in 2010. California may ultimately launch multiple satellites into space, according to the governor’s office. The California Air Resources Board is in the process of developing the monitoring technology used by the satellite. No date has been set for the launch, but it will probably be several years away.
Officials at the air board discussed the possibility of the satellite at their July meeting, where they expressed concern that the Trump administration had mothballed plans to use innovative technology to monitor the pollutants from space.
Robbie Schingler, co-founder of Planet Labs, said the project will inform “how advanced satellite technology can enhance our ability to measure, monitor and ultimately mitigate the impacts of climate change.”