The climate is changing and no state has felt this more acutely than drought-plagued California, where 100,000 acres of forest are burning today—including one fire that’s 100 square miles. Today, the state’s governor Jerry Brown asked for help posing a question to Republican leaders: “What is your plan to deal with the threat of climate change?”
In advance of tomorrow’s Republican presidential debate, Brown sent out an open letter to the candidates. Brown recommends uploading your own version of this memo to through the Fox News “Debate Uploader” tool on its Facebook page where anyone can submit questions for the 17 Republican candidates to answer tomorrow. You can upload text or a video of your question, or a photo of “what you think needs to change in America.” That’s easy: Not the climate!
There are plenty more environmental issues you could ask the candidates about. Why are they selling off public lands for profit? Why isn’t there an early warning system for earthquakes like the one that will hit the Cascadia Subduction zone? Why isn’t fast, efficient, safe public transportation a priority in this country? But the important question to ask is this one: What do they plan to do about climate change?
Here’s the articulate memo Brown sent to all 17 Republican candidates:
Over the past week millions of Californians, from the San Joaquin Valley to the North Coast, woke up to a familiar sight and smell: thick, smoke-filled air. As I write, 10,000 federal, state and local emergency personnel are fighting fires spanning more than 100,000 acres across California - the equivalent of San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Manhattan all being fully enveloped by flames. Dozens of homes have been destroyed, thousands of people have been evacuated, and tragically, one firefighter - a father of two - lost his life battling the fires. Already this year, more than 4,000 fires have charred state land. The average fire season here used to span six months; now it’s year-round.
As the state’s drought stretches into its fourth year, California is also hotter and drier than it’s ever been. Last year was the warmest on record and the three-year period from fall 2011 to fall 2014 was the driest since records were first kept in 1895. These conditions have not only turned the state’s forests into a tinderbox, they’ve left reservoirs at historically low levels and growers, who collectively produce nearly half of American grown fruits, nuts and vegetables, reeling. Billions of dollars in revenue, hundreds of thousands of acres of crops and tens of thousands of jobs have been lost.
Climate change is often discussed in the abstract. But these impacts - in California and the rest of the nation - are real. Worldwide, 2014 was the warmest year on record and 2005 to 2014 was the warmest decade on record. The first six months of 2015 have been even hotter. Longer fire seasons, extreme weather and severe droughts aren’t on the horizon, they’re all here - and here to stay. This is the new normal. The climate is changing.
Given the challenge and the stakes, my question for you is simple: What are you going to do about it? What is your plan to deal with the threat of climate change?
Continuing to question the science and hurl insults at “global warming hoaxsters” and “apostles of this pseudo-religion” won’t prevent severe damage to our health and economic well-being. Americans, their children and generations to come deserve - and demand - better.
From the lab to the boardroom and even to the pulpit, global leaders aren’t waiting around. They understand there’s no time for delay or denial.
In May, the Pope, issued a call to arms on climate change in his encyclical, Laudato Si’ - a charge he echoed last month at a Vatican symposium of the world’s mayors and governors organized by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences. Earlier this week, the President announced ambitious, yet achievable, nationwide limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. More than a dozen major companies - from Google to Walmart - representing more than $1.3 trillion in revenue in 2014, have pledged to act on climate change.
In the scientific community, there’s overwhelming consensus that climate change is real and happening. This conclusion has been endorsed by nearly 200 national and international scientific bodies throughout the world, including those in Brazil, South Africa, India, China, Russia, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and the U.S.
Here in California, we plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels, increase from one-third to 50 percent the electricity derived from renewable sources and reduce today’s petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent all in the next 15 years, among many other efforts. For those that think we have to choose between fighting climate change and growing our economy, let’s not forget that California outpaced the nation last year in job growth.
Protecting our planet shouldn’t be partisan. California’s last chief executive, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, understood this when he signed California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction targets into law in 2006. So did George Pataki, one of your fellow candidates for President, who in 2003 as Governor of New York, urged fellow Northeastern governors “to develop a strategy that will help the region lead the nation in the effort to fight global climate change”— and helped develop a regional carbon trading program for electricity sector emissions. Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson partnered with former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Tom Steyer and a number of other leaders to form the Risky Business Project, which detailed the economic risks of climate change in a report released last year. Similarly, George Shultz, who served numerous Republican presidents, wrote this year that those who deny “the globe is warming and that carbon dioxide has something to do with that fact” will “wind up being mugged by reality.” Let’s also remember that it was President Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the modern Clean Air Act into law.
And lest you think this movement is limited to Democrats and only embraced within our borders, the conservatives in England, the moderates in Germany and even the communists in China are on board.
As the fires continue to burn here in California, don’t wait for the smoke to clear. It’s time to act.
Edmund G. Brown Jr.
Governor of California
Follow the author at @awalkerinLA