Jerry Brown, the Governor of California and a climate activist, was nevertheless booed at the COP23 Conference in Bonn last week for not going further, faster, then he already has to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change. Bill McKibben penned an article in The New Yorker about a disgruntled audience booing Brown who was seen as giving lip service to climate change. McKibben noted that since California “is a big oil-and-gas producer, too—the third largest in the United States—and Brown has so far declined to curtail even fracking and urban drilling, the dirtiest and most dangerous kinds.”
We here at ClimateYou understand that Brown is first and foremost a politician, but a lame duck in a big, diverse state economy little beholden to Big Oil. He could announce policies to speed a “managed decline” of high-carbon power and transportation. If he were to do so in Bonn, he would be cheered. World opinion has turned against fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and climate change. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has championed solar farms, but is criticized for still supporting too many coal plants. Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau faces the same pressures but a more difficult choice. There are more than 173 billion barrels of oil-rich tar sands under the province of Alberta in Western Canada, with Canadian companies eager to mine the high-sulfur oil and send it through pipelines to the US Gulf Coast for refining. If that oil is burned, there is little chance of meeting even the Paris Agreement’s modest target of limiting global warming to 2°C. But can PM Trudeau afford to forego the riches and jobs that would accrue to Canada and its people? Can he just leave all that oil in the ground? Trudeau is a politician, so a full stop is unlikely, but so is a full speed ahead. The fate of the world rests, at least in part, on the paths that politicians like Brown, Trudeau, and Merkel choose (or are forced) to adopt. Some decisions will be made in Bonn. Stay tuned.