SAN FRANCISCO Gov. Jerry Brown railed Thursday against politicians who doubt climate change, calling them "political lemmings" and the chief obstacle in the fight against global warming.
"The main thing we have to deal with in climate change is the skepticism, the denial and the cult-like behavior of the political lemmings that would take us over the cliff," the Democratic governor said at a high-profile conference on climate change at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
At a conference that included Brown's predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Brown said climate change has lengthened the state's fire season and quickened its snowmelt, affecting agriculture and taxing public infrastructure.
He acknowledged Californians have been "squeezed" by the flagging economy, but he said investment is necessary to stem the effect of global warming. Brown is expected next year to propose a peripheral canal or other way to move water through or around the Delta.
"It will cost money," he said. "But if we don't do that, and the levees collapse in one of these extreme events, we could run out of fresh water."
Brown championed environmental causes when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, and he has sought in his return to Sacramento to build on Schwarzenegger's ambitious environmental record.
Brown signed legislation in April requiring California utilities to obtain one-third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and he has said he will promote the creation of 20,000 new megawatts of renewable energy by that year.
Schwarzenegger, who signed California's landmark greenhouse gas-reduction law when he was governor, said he was "proud" of Brown's work on the environment. But he called for like-minded officials to talk less about ice caps and more about health benefits and jobs the green energy sector could create.
"The ordinary person that lives in the middle of the country somewhere doesn't relate to rising sea levels, they don't relate to melting ice caps," Schwarzenegger said. "They want to have a job."
Schwarzenegger's appearance came while the actor broke from filming a movie, which he said was "weird, in a way."
Many conservatives believe the effect of global warming is overstated, and they fear the effect of greater regulation on the economy. But Thursday's conference was by invitation only, and Brown's criticism of conservative politicians was well applauded by those in attendance.