Jerry Brown Says California’s Climate Goal Is No Longer Reasonable

The question was posed by California Institute of Technology physicist Harry Atwater: “You and your administration set pretty ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Now the Biden administration is pushing for 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Is this still achievable? You know we have eight years until 2030, but as you mentioned the most recent arrow is in the wrong direction. Is that goal still a reasonable one?”

“Not unless changes occur that I don’t see right now,” replied Jerry Brown, who served as California’s governor from 1975-83 and from 2011-19. During that latter term he implemented the nation’s most ambitious climate goals.

Republicans are poised to take the U.S. House of Representatives in the midterm elections, Brown said in a Zoom call from his ranch near Williams, CA. “You never know for sure. They’re going to be blocking climate change” legislation.

“It looks like the Republicans have a good chance to elect the next president, and that doesn’t look like it’s good for climate change,” he said, and even with the Democratic Congress, President Biden’s Build Back Better plan can’t pass the 50/50 Senate, he said, because of Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

“I think the goal is fine. I don’t know that we’re going to meet it, and if the U.S. doesn’t meet it, I don’t think California will meet it either.”

Brown’s remarks came before the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week limiting the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases.

The best response to federal gridlock, Brown said during the Caltech Energy 10 conference last month, is for local governments, pension funds, educational institutions and the private sector to mobilize—both to address climate change directly and to pressure politicians at the state and federal levels.

“Right now the politics are just not favorable to dealing with climate at the level we have to deal with it,” Brown said, “so one of the important points—a key point—is we’ve got to move the needle. We’ve got to move our politicians, and the ‘we’ has to be the non-politicians. That’s the private sector, and the private sector has a lot of power, and we’ve got to start exercising that power.

“But everywhere we turn we’re distracted. Gas prices—that’s a big burden for a lot of people, you can’t minimize it. The Ukraine war is getting a lot of attention, but nevertheless greenhouse gases are going up a prodigious amount, still rising, and they’re going to be up in the atmosphere for a long, long time, so the time to act is now.”

Watch Harry Atwater’s conversation with Jerry Brown:

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