California’s sensible evangelism needs to be heard

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto this month. He will address leaders at the Vatican on climate change this week.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto this month. He will address leaders at the Vatican on climate change this week. The Associated Press

As if to underscore the urgency of the situation, the heavens have unleashed hell on California just in time for Gov. Jerry Brown’s speech at the Vatican on climate change.

Torrential rains collapsed a bridge on Interstate 10 over the weekend, shutting down a main artery in and out of Arizona. Rivers of mud threatened homes in Orange and Riverside counties. Great bolts of lightning closed beaches up and down the coast of Southern California.

And that’s not even to mention the terrifying wildfire that jumped I-15 in San Bernardino County on Friday, forcing motorists to leap from their cars and run for their lives.

The apocalypse may not be upon us yet. But soaring ocean temperatures and a gathering El Niño have made it a record summer for Pacific cyclones. Greenland is suddenly melting. Rising sea levels threaten coastal cities from Miami to Shanghai.

As Brown has exhorted here and abroad, the hour is late, but some of us still resist recognizing the climate change crisis. Conferences such as the one the governor is attending this week, a followup on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the climate, don’t promise much progress unless developed nations such as the United States make global warming a priority and persuade economic powers such as China and India to join the effort.

Unfortunately, our gridlocked national politics haven’t created much of an opening for change.

That has meant looking for sensible interim options, such as – if you’re Brown – acting at a “subnational” level. To that end, no one on the planet has been busier than California’s governor, who is expected to address the gathering on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Californians can be proud of this state’s leadership and contribution to the conversation. Brown has persuaded 18 states and provinces in nine countries so far to sign onto a California-led commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Closer to home, state lawmakers led by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León are preparing to approve bills to slash petroleum use in motor vehicles, boost renewable energy as a source of electrical power and make buildings substantially more energy efficient.

But so much work needs to be done, and the odds are daunting. Even as the former seminarian joins the pope’s entreaties to treat global warming as a moral crisis, oil companies and utilities say his plans are too radical, and his goals are too ambitious.

They aren’t; in fact, some fear we may be doing too little too late to make a difference. But as Brown takes the international stage, lawmakers need to stay focused on finding the toughest yet most workable sweet spot in environmental rules such as those proposed in Senate Bill 350, which encompasses Brown’s goals on petroleum and renewable energy, and on developing intermediate solutions.

The cost of moving the needle on carbon pollution may seem high, but it’s chump change compared with what we’re going to face if we capitulate to denial. California is in the spotlight, and the message we send has never been more important.

Here and around the world, it is imperative that we let sensible evangelists such as Brown make a difference and continue our push for a national answer. There may be no outrunning the storm otherwise.