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Science & Environment

Calif. Gov. Brown Wants To Join Forces With China To Ease Climate Change

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

California's governor, Jerry Brown, is going to China today for meetings with business leaders and government officials. And it's such interesting timing. He's on his own diplomatic mission the day after President Trump announced he's withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Brown is not happy about Trump's decision, as he told us late yesterday.

Well, Governor, thanks for coming on the program. We appreciate it.

JERRY BROWN: Sure.

GREEN: How significant is this announcement from President Trump?

BROWN: Profoundly significant. It's significant in that it is taking America out of the mainstream of the world and going backwards into the dark ages of climate misunderstanding. That's for one. But in another way, it's going to so polarize the country and so galvanize the opposition that actually the climate action effort and coalition will get much stronger. I sense that.

GREEN: Well, then, let me ask you this. I mean, in terms of your goals and the goals of other people who say that they want to fight climate change, would galvanizing your supporters be such a bad thing?

BROWN: No, it's a good thing. We are being galvanized, but that doesn't take away or diminish what Mr. Trump has done. I mean, he's not telling the truth. The jobs are being created by this new economy, by clean technology. California demonstrates that. California has the toughest clean technology and climate change action laws and rules, regulations in the country. We are doing the Paris Agreement, and our job numbers are up over 2 million.

GREEN: So you're not saying that those, the arguments the president is making, that there's absolutely no effect on the U.S. economy in a negative way from this agreement.

BROWN: No, it's a - yes. There's no...

GREEN: But you're saying that the damage that climate change could do outweighs it in your mind but that there's...

BROWN: No, it's not damage. I mean, it's true the coal industry is declining, but it's declining because gas is cheaper and solar is cheaper in many applications. So it's competition. Look, the buggy whip industry didn't make it. That doesn't mean we should subsidize it. I'm saying that there are short-term micro impacts obviously, but the aggregate impact now, next year and forever into the future is absolutely positive.

GREEN: Governor, you said that this is going to polarize. If you listen to what President Trump said, he suggested that he's willing to sit down with Democrats potentially to negotiate a way back into the Paris Agreement or find some other agreement. Couldn't that lead to less polarization, if they come up with some sort of agreement that even conservative skeptics will get behind?

BROWN: Fine. I mean, if he can get some people behind it. But look, this was a well thought-out agreement. It's modest. It's not adequate to the challenge of climate change. When the sea level rises in the next 80 years six or eight feet, the devastation to Florida to New York to California to New Orleans to Bangladesh, it's a horror. And that cost can be imagined in dollars. It's human tragedy.

GREEN: You said your state, other states, I mean, other businesses, say they're going to keep their pledges to to fight climate change. Does this - does this change any of your plans, or is it business as usual in terms of the state of California and other states you're working with?

BROWN: I think this will galvanize the legislature to be more aggressive and imaginative in the enactment of climate laws. So I don't know whether people listening quite get it, but this is like a war. If we don't take action, millions of people will suffer. President Obama took a modest step, and now we're going to be set back from that. But I believe we're going to keep pushing back.

GREEN: Could Democrats have done a better job messaging on this issue?

BROWN: Sure. But this is not - look, this is not about messaging. This is about the future of humanity, and it's nothing less than that.

GREEN: Can you relate to governors in states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, where, you know, cities bill themselves as being built on coal, what they're up against watching that industry decline? Can you relate to them?

BROWN: Sure. I'm a politician. I know what it is. You got to please your constituents. Otherwise, you don't get elected. I get that. I've done that here in California. But look, there are ways of subsidizing. There's ways of transitioning from one place to another. The world changes. It's changing now.

GREEN: Governor, let me just finish with this - there was a headline in The Sacramento Bee posing the question of whether you are going to be taking the place of the president on climate change. You up for that job?

BROWN: Well, first of all, somebody's got to take his place. He doesn't have a place in the way that is required. This isn't going to - I'm going to do whatever I can. I'm not going to give it a metaphor of what my role should be called, but I do know the science. I do know the politics, and I know how to do things and get things done. We've got to make the turn to a decarbonized future. If we don't, billions of people are going to suffer, and that's not right.

GREEN: California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, speaking to us over the phone. Governor, thanks so much.

BROWN: Hey, thanks for giving me the chance. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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