Opponents of a controversial form of oil extraction repeatedly interrupted California Gov. Jerry Brown’s speech pledging support for the Paris agreement on Saturday, unfurling signs and arguing that his refusal to ban hydraulic fracturing was a stain on his environmental record.
About a dozen protesters chanted “carbon trading is no solution,” a criticism of his cap-and-trade system, and “poisoned wastewater” and “keep it in the ground,” shots at his permissive stance on fracking, at an event with Brown and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg called “America’s Pledge.”
Brown, who was less than a minute into a speech that was to mark the historic collaboration of states, cities, business and philanthropic leaders in countering Trump’s planned Paris pullout, responded to the demonstrators in real time.
“I wish we could have no pollution, but we have to have our automobiles,” said Brown, who is on a two-week tour of Europe, preaching about the perils of climate change to largely receptive audiences.
“I agree with you, ‘in the ground,’” Brown shot back as the heckling dragged on. “Let’s put you in the ground so we can get on with the show here.”
“Anyway,” he continued, “This is very California. Thank you for coming. Actually, that’s very mild.”
But the protests continued for much of Brown’s address. At one point, when some in the crowd of hundreds rallied behind the Democratic governor, he led a chant of “We’re still in.”
Brown, improvising, added his own twist: “Trump’s still out. Trump is still out. Trump is still out.”
“We love Brown! We love Brown!” his supporters interjected.
Despite being held up as an environmental leader and championing environmental causes going back to his first time as governor, from 1975 to 1983, Brown’s refusal to ban fracking has prompted protests for years.
In 2014, activists chanting feet from the podium where Brown spoke interrupted his speech to the state Democratic Party convention, provoking Brown to defend his environmental record and accuse environmentalists of driving too much.
“All you guys who like to make noise, just listen a moment,” Brown said then. “Californians, and most of you included, are driving over 330 billion miles a year. Three hundred and thirty billion miles a year, and 99 percent is fossil fuel.”
Much of the activity, which has cropped up from time to time, followed Brown’s approval of legislation establishing a permitting a fracking system and regulating it.
On Saturday, a group aligned with the demonstration, the Center for Biological Diversity, issued a prepared statement, saying, “We support our allies from frontline communities who called out Gov. Jerry Brown on his false climate leadership today.”
“California oil companies are producing millions of barrels per year of some of the most climate-damaging crude on the planet,” said Jean Su, a director with the organization. “The governor won’t be a real climate hero until he changes course to keep California’s dirty oil in the ground.”
As Brown waited on stage and the protests continued, the governor appeared caught off guard. “I wish I could speak in rhythm, but I don’t,” he said.
“Let me put in in perspective, folks,” Brown then responded. “If I could turn off the oil today, 32 million vehicles would stop and 10 million jobs would be destroyed overnight. And that’s not going to stop.”
“This is one of the reasons California has aggressive goals,” he added to the international audience, some of which kept cheering him on. “No matter what we do we are being challenged to do more. And I agree with that.
“Only in California could we stimulate this kind of opposition because we are an aggressive state. There’s very strong advocates on all sides.”
At a panel later in the day, he cast the protesters as troublemakers.
“Most of these critics ride around in cars and fly in airplanes, so what we have to do is get the end goal in sight and start taking the steps knowing that you can’t just say, ‘I want to get off now.’ Because you can’t get off now ... If we didn’t have fossil fuels we’d probably be damned cold here.
“It’s a paradox; we must get carbon to zero ... Some minds are not subtle enough to appreciate the paradox. I like the paradox.”