Tomorrow tens of thousands of people are expected to march in California to demand that the State’s Governor, Jerry Brown, act decisively on climate change and signal an end to the oil and gas drilling in the Golden State. It will be the largest climate march the West Coast has ever seen. They will be joined by people marching worldwide demanding a fossil-free world.
As young and old hold hands together, parts of California continue to burn from wildfires that have ravaged the State on and off for weeks. The fires, which have become the largest in the state’s history, have left a trail of devastation: Lives have been lost, a thousand homes destroyed and there are some 10,000 outstanding insurance claims worth $845 million. Climate change does not come cheap.
Global Climate Action Summit
Jerry Brown can change all of this but he is running out of time. To the marchers, Brown is drinking in the last chance saloon of his political career. To them, he has just days to decide his legacy. Will he emerge as a real climate champion, who leads California into a clean energy future – or will he be shown to be a climate charlatan who spoke great words, yet carried on doing dirty deeds?
The march is timed to coincide with the “Global Climate Action Summit” which Brown will co-host in San Francisco next week. The Summit boasts a varied list of speakers and conference chairs such as actor Alec Baldwin; Ex-Vice President Al Gore; Ex-Secretary of State John Kerry, Ex-Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Jane Goodall, world expert on primates, amongst others. And of course the star of the show, Jerry Brown himself.
In a video posted on the summit website, Brown says: “It is up to you, me and tens of millions of other people to roll back the forces of carbonization and join together to combat the existential threat of climate change. That is why we are having the climate action summit.”
But for months a coalition of nearly 800 civil society groups have been pointing out for months, Brown cannot claim to be a climate leader on the one hand and carry on allowing drilling for oil and gas on the other.
21,397 permits for oil and gas operations in the state
Since he has become Governor, Brown’s administration has approved 21,397 permits for oil and gas operations in the state. The majority of these are located in communities with above-average poverty rates for California and in communities of color. They have impacted the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
Brown is under increasing pressure to act. The civil society groups have been running a campaign called “Brown’s Last Chance” since April, calling on the Governor to ban new oil and gas permits and to announce a phase out of fossil fuel production in the state, particularly in areas close to homes, schools and hospitals.
A letter from the groups reads: “In September, as you welcome the world to San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit, you have an opportunity to set the new standard for global climate leadership.”
Brown has also come under pressure from activists, fellow politicians and scientists: In July, six female Nobel Laureates, wrote to Brown to urge him to “begin managed and just transition off of oil and gas production”. They declared that California has “a moral responsibility to act” and “climate leaders can no longer explore for and exploit new fossil fuels.”
This month climate activists erected a mock “oil derrick,” blocking the entrance to the garage at the State Capitol and undertook multiple sit-ins at Jerry Brown’s office. One of those protesting was Kai Newkirk, who stated in a Facebook post: “California is on fire. Toxic oil drilling in California is fueling the flames. We can no longer accept Jerry Brown’s cowardice and hypocrisy on climate. It’s time to SIT IN to demand that he STAND UP to Big Oil.”
On August 22, two Democratic members of Congress, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote to Brown arguing that “transformative climate leadership must include bold action on the production side of fossil fuels”. They urged him to announce an end of fossil fuel projects in the state at the upcoming climate summit.
$17.9 billion in damages
Finally, late last month, California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment was released. It makes for grim reading. The Assessment said: “By 2100, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, one study found that the frequency of extreme wildfires burning over approximately 25,000 acres would increase by nearly 50 percent, and that average area burned statewide would increase by 77 percent by the end of the century.”
It added: “Statewide damages could reach nearly $17.9 billion from inundation of residential and commercial buildings under 50 cm of sea-level rise.” The report also concluded that City heatwaves could lead to two to three times as many deaths by 2050, or some 11,300 additional deaths.
In response, Jerry Brown stated that “These findings are profoundly serious and will continue to guide us as we confront the apocalyptic threat of irreversible climate change”.
Justin Gillis, writing in the New York Times this week, said the “Bill could well be the most important piece of climate legislation ever passed by any government.” That may be so. But it is not enough.. There is no doubt that the Bill is seen by some as ambitious as it sets a target of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045. Critics, however, argue it is not ambitious enough to avert a climate catastrophe and point out the fact that electricity generation is only responsible for some 20 percent of Californian emissions anyway. So what about the other 80 percent.
Brown’s last chance
As I write, Brown may even veto SB100 in a game of Russian Roulette politics played out in California. However, the bottom line is that whether Brown signs SB100 or not, he also has to stop drilling for oil and gas. He cannot warn of an apocalyptic threat of climate change, yet at the same time carry on drilling. That would be nonsensical. He has to address both the supply side and demand side of the carbon bubble.
So whatever he does on SB100, he also has to pledge to stop oil and gas drilling at the climate summit. He has to do that to for the people of California. He has to do it for the planet. He has to do it to save lives and livelihoods. He has to do it to give our children a liveable future. It is that simple. This really is Brown’s last chance.