Nov 14, 2018

In September 2018, the Global Climate Action Summit convened 4,000 politicians, scientists, and leaders in the environmental movement to celebrate achievements and accelerate action on climate commitments.

California Governor Jerry Brown co-hosted the summit, and the state was recognized as a longstanding leader on climate change policy.  For example, California has surpassed ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; established the first multi-sector cap-and-trade program in North America, which has been hailed as an international model; and realized dramatic increases in renewable energy production.

However, some activists rallying outside the event subscribed to a different reality: that Governor Brown has been a cruel, heartless failure whose unwillingness to ban oil production outright has created “a living hell for Californians.” To these activists, creating and implementing a realistic plan to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045 is simply not enough.

  • Food & Water Watch criticized Governor Brown, saying he “sells himself as a climate champion, but this is nothing more than snake oil.” The group blocked the entrance to the summit to argue that Brown’s “action on climate change is nowhere near fast enough” and “anything less than a complete rejection of dirty oil and gas is the truly crazy position to hold.”
  • The Center for Biological Diversity also marched at the summit, calling for “no more half measures that turn frontline communities into sacrifice zones.” The group also demanded a “just transition off of climate killing drilling.”
  • STAND-LA said Governor Brown was “no climate leader” and repeated their calls for increased setbacks and a prohibition on new oil and gas production in California – two proposals that would effectively shut down all production in California.

Climate leaders inside the summit generally rejected these perspectives as unrealistic, naïve, and unhelpful. 

Severin Borenstein, Faculty Director of the Energy Institute at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the blanket policy of “keep it in the ground” simply “doesn’t pencil out.” He continued: “California would take a large economic hit for a small reduction in emissions” while importing more oil from “autocratic regimes with abysmal human rights records.”

“America’s a wonderful country,” joked former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg. “Here we have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.”

Governor Brown rejected the activist approach at the summit: “If I could turn off the oil today, 32 million vehicles would stop and 10 million jobs would be destroyed overnight … You don’t snap your fingers and say, ‘Now it’s done.’ It takes a process.”

Brown also declared: “Make no doubt about it, there is no place in the world that has a more integrated, comprehensive, effective plan to reduce carbon emissions from all sources.”

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton agreed with this sentiment: “Brown might not be the shining, courageous climate crusader he’s often made out to be, but he’s a lot closer than just about anyone else in high public office.” 

Bottom line: the Global Climate Action Summit showed once again that activists are far outside the mainstream, irrationally criticizing Brown while making proposals that climate experts reject as unworkable fantasy.