Technology alone isn’t going to be enough to save the world from the very real dangers of climate change, Gov. Jerry Brown told an audience of environmentalists in San Francisco on Wednesday night.
People need “to live lean and lightly on the planet,” he said. “They need to think how they live and what’s important,” and that will be a profound shift in the world.
Brown was speaking at the annual ClimateTech conference, a two-day event at the Metreon center, sponsored by the New York Times. The governor spent nearly an hour talking about climate issues with columnist Thomas Friedman and answering questions from the more than 150 people at the dinner.
It’s not always an easy topic to deal with, especially when it comes to persuading people and politicians just how important it is, the governor said.
“I like to say that the end of the world isn’t news,” since it’s not something that lawmakers’ political lives depend on, Brown said. But the changes that must be made are dramatic.
The change is like converting “from pagan Rome to Christian Europe but we don’t have 400 or 500 years,” the governor said. “Instead, we have 20.”
While Brown has long been an evangelist for the need to deal with climate change and the environment, he has taken an even more visible leadership role in the past year, as President Trump has moved to make good on his campaign promises to roll back many long-standing environmental regulations.
This month, Brown spent time in Europe, speaking at environmental conferences and attending the U.N. climate change conference in Bonn, Germany. He also plans to host a similar conference in September in San Francisco.
The key at the conference, which will have representatives from cities, counties, states and countries from across the world, is “to get people to make a commitment” to do more to slow and turn back the ravages of climate change, the governor said.
But to do that often takes tough regulations on what can and can’t be done, which can make Republicans turn their backs on the efforts, Brown said.
“You can’t sit back and hope the market will make it all turn out,” he added. “You need rules ... but the market is God or a closet dictator for many Republicans.”
Talking to Republicans about climate change “is like talking about abortion in the Vatican,” Brown said. “It might be easier to remove them from office than convert them.”
Those regulations, especially in California, have been the key to many of the technical advances that have helped cut the level of greenhouse gases. Automakers that 20 or 30 years ago complained that it was impossible to meet emission requirements are now producing cars that are cleaner than those early rules ever contemplated, Brown said. And when the state required electric utilities to provide massive storage for renewable energy in 2013, it pushed the industry into overdrive.
“We are driving innovation by regulation,” he said.
But there’s still plenty to do, and for Brown, who is termed out of his office in 2019, there’s not much time for him to do it.
“We need to do all the things we’re now doing, but push harder,” he said.
The recent Wine Country fires also exposed a danger from climate change.
“This is the new normal,” Brown said. “Fire season is not a couple of months a year anymore.”
The carbon dioxide from a growing rash of fires can undo all the greenhouse gas reduction efforts the state makes.
“We need a more intelligent way to manage forests,” he said. “We have to find a way to take out a lot of that kindling, the fuel for the fires.”
Brown admitted that he paints a grim picture of the world’s future.
“We’re making progress, but we’re running out of time,” the governor said. “There are a lot of grounds for despair.”
It’s no time for people to throw up their hands and surrender, though.
People need “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will and don’t be dismayed by what you see,” Brown said.
John Wildermuth is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @jfwildermuth...Read more