Not the enemy: Why we didn’t protest Gov. Jerry Brown

Some environmental allies protested California Gov. Jerry Brown this week

Photo from October 2010 by Neon Tommy/Creative Commons 2.0

As California hosts people from around the world for the Global Climate Action Summit, some of our friends and allies have been protesting Gov. Jerry Brown for not doing enough to keep our state’s oil in the ground. That strikes me as the wrong action targeted at the wrong person at the wrong time.

Gov. Brown is perhaps the most powerful current leader of the climate change movement. He has the stature, passion and knowledge to lead on this issue, not only in California, but on the world stage. We should be cheering him on for his leadership and accomplishments, not protesting him for not doing enough.

If you know me, you may be surprised by my position. I’ve led the charge for our elected leaders to do “more” on a range of issues, from campaign finance reform to toxic chemical pollution to genetically-engineered foods. I am firmly committed to ending the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Since 1992, I have served on the board of the Green Century Funds, the only fossil fuel-free mutual fund company in America. I am the Chairwoman of the Environment America Research & Policy Center, which has led the call for clean energy in a majority of states in the nation. In 2013, I led a group of former Jerry Brown staffers (I worked on his 1992 presidential campaign) to ask him to do more to end the practice of “fracking” in California. I don’t regret gathering signatures for that letter for a second.

But, political strategy should be appropriate to the moment. When we sent that letter, Gov. Brown was relatively early in his second stint as governor and Pres. Barack Obama was taking action against climate change from the White House. Pushing the governor to do more in California was a reasonable and responsible use of political capital.

Times have changed. Jerry Brown is far from our biggest enemy on climate (nor was he then, although we did hope he could go further than Obama here in California). His administration has been standing up to the Trump administration every step of the way on clean air and climate (as well as on many other issues). As activists, we have to be smart and look for the right opportunities to make change, to not squander capital on lost causes or to attack our leaders when we need them most as allies. We also shouldn’t expect even our closest allies in elected office to go much further than their constituents will allow. If an elected official is doing all he or she can on an issue without endangering reelection chances or inciting a backlash, it’s our job to organize the support needed for going further on those crucial issues.

On climate, in the current political moment, why spend time and energy undermining the authority of Jerry Brown when he’s doing more than anyone to challenge the power of Pres. Donald Trump?

The Nation wrote about the debate over Brown’s policies that’s underway this week. I completely agree with Environment California’s State Director Dan Jacobson’s quote in this article.

“I don’t think there’s much that Jerry Brown is afraid of politically. I mean, it’s not as if the other climate fights he’s engaged in — the push for 50 percent renewables, for 5 million electric vehicles, the gas-tax repeal on the ballot in November — don’t have massive political costs. It’s more: How much of a fight does he want to pick with the oil industry while still getting other things done?”

In case anyone is fuzzy on the history, Jerry Brown has been fighting for clean energy his entire life. Check out this cool letter he wrote to the PIRGs’ Campaign for Safe Energy campaign in 1980:

Courtesy of Wendy Wendlandt

In my humble opinion, in the current political context, we should put our heart and soul into using the climate summit as a way to excite people and give them hope that we can solve the problem of climate change. Afterward, let’s all do as much as we can to get municipalities, states, and other institutions to adopt policies that will reduce climate pollution. Gov. Brown started us out well this week by signing SB 100, California’s pledge to move towards 100 percent clean and renewable energy as quickly as possible.

Let’s make California a beacon of sunshine for the country and the world. Let’s remember that Jerry Brown is doing more than anyone to light the way.

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Environment America is a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental groups working for clean air, clean water and open space. Part of The Public Interest Network. https://environmentamerica.org/

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Wendy Wendlandt

Wendy Wendlandt

Public interest activist concerned with the future of the planet, consumer protection and effective governance.

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