“Climate Change Is Like War” California’s Jerry Brown Says

Former California Governor Jerry Brown is officially retired, but he remains heavily involved in two topics that enthralled him while in government and are now front and center globally: climate change and the prospect of nuclear war. Brown, who leaves office in 2019, is the executive chairman of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which keeps track of how near mankind is to self-destruction and sets the Doomsday Clock. He’s also a member of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s board of directors.

Brown praised President Joe Biden in an interview with The Associated Press for not boosting the US nuclear danger level after Russian President Vladimir Putin made veiled threats to use his country’s nuclear arsenal during the conflict in Ukraine. Brown also encouraged Biden to defy Republican efforts to boost oil output as fuel prices continue to rise. “It’s true that the Russians are earning money from oil and gas, but to compound that problem by accelerating oil and gas in America would go against the climate goals, and climate is like war: If we don’t handle it, people are going to die and they’re going to be suffering. Not immediately, but over time,” said Brown, a Democrat.

Last week, Brown spoke with the Associated Press from his home in rural Colusa County, roughly 60 miles northwest of Sacramento. Brown’s family has owned land in California’s inner coastal mountain range since the 1860s when his great-grandfather immigrated from Germany and constructed the Mountain House, a stagecoach station. Mountain House III is the name of the residence Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, completed in 2019. Solar panels provide all of the energy for the house, and it is not connected to any local utilities. Brown has stepped down from electoral politics after a record four terms as governor of California (from 1975 to 1983 and 2011 to 2019), but he is far from forgotten in the public eye.

Brown has scheduled meetings with John Kerry, Biden’s special presidential envoy on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, China’s climate envoy, and Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations Secretary-General. At the University of California, Berkeley, he founded and chaired the California-China Climate Institute, which aims to increase collaboration on climate-related research and technology. “No matter how antagonistic things get, cooperation is still imperative to deal with climate and nuclear proliferation,” he said.

According to Rachel Bronson, president of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, he adds a crucial political viewpoint to the group’s scientists as they explore how to get their word out. He joined the organization’s scientific and security board last week as they worked on a statement on Putin’s nuclear threats. The experts opted not to update the Doomsday Clock, which was set at 100 seconds to midnight in 2020, the figurative time indicating worldwide calamity. They did warn, though, that Russia’s invasion has reawakened the “horror possibility” of nuclear weapons being deployed to intensify a “conventional battle.”

As his governorship came to an end, Bronson pushed Brown for a senior position because of his great interest in the company’s nuclear work and his ability to comprehend major threats. “He thinks about existential risk,” Bronson said. Brown, in fact, is a serious thinker on a wide range of topics, from hummingbirds to the meaning of life and death. He studied to be a Jesuit priest but decided to follow in his father’s footsteps in politics. From 1959 until 1967, Edmund “Pat” Brown served as governor of California.

Jerry Brown has a philosophical approach to life and business, typically summarising his thoughts with a Latin phrase or motto. He’s long complained that nuclear weapons and climate change don’t get enough attention in the face of more pressing worries, such as the coronavirus and inflation these days. “We have to have enough bandwidth to look at the big issues because if they get away from us we won’t have the little issues to worry about,” Brown said.

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He cautioned that Republican control of the House of Representatives following this fall’s midterm elections, along with the potential of the Supreme Court limiting the federal government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, would increase the likelihood of a climate “catastrophe.” Though Brown has long pondered the planet’s fate, he is now maybe more linked to it than he has ever been. He is powered by the sun and obtains his water from a well. California’s wildfires have grown hotter, more unpredictable, and more catastrophic in recent years as a result of climate change, and Brown’s 2,500-acre (1,012-hectare) property puts him closer to the threat than ever before.

In the fall, he hosts friends to help harvest olives, which he has pressed into oil, and he zips around the property on his ATV examining the trees and flowers, determined to learn their names. He’s provided his land to the California Native Plant Society, entomologists, and forestry and fire experts as a meeting location. Last November, a group of forest specialists issued a statement urging the state to focus on better forest management to reduce the severity of wildfires. Many of their recommendations were similar to those made by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.

Meanwhile, entomologists gathered on the ranch for a two-day planning retreat to discuss how to safeguard California’s insects. According to Dan Gluesenkamp, executive director of the California Institute for Biodiversity and organizer of the retreat, Brown permitted them to scan his land, and two researchers discovered new species — an ant and a beetle. Brown sat down with the scientists for a dinner and grilled them on their findings. He “obviously relished the opportunity to sit around the picnic table for supper and have really tough conversations with the world’s best entomologists,” according to the article “According to Gluesenkamp.

Brown said he recently considered what would have happened if he had won one of his three presidential runs, the most recent in 1992 while sitting outside his home. He made the decision that he would much rather be in Colusa County. “I’m very happy where I am — it’s a very amazing place. I can’t imagine being in a better place,” he said.

He then questioned aloud if he could have avoided the mistakes made by others who went on to become president. Then he soon moved on to wondering why a hummingbird that had captured his sight was flying from tree to tree so swiftly.


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