Editors Note: This is a running series documenting four UNC student's experience at the COP 23 in Bonn, Germany. See last week's recap here.
By Mejs Hasan
There’s a notable difference in how people from different countries speak.
Finland’s minister for the environment, for example, will only solemnly say, “Friends, we are living in critical times,” as he describes the urgency of taking action on climate change.
Not so Jerry Brown, governor of California. He says, OK, we’re not facing a war, we’re just facing a catastrophe that will take us all out.
Brown is one of a roving gang of rogue American governors crashing the UN climate talks here in Bonn, apparently determined to upstage the official White House delegation. I don’t know how much of their bluster they actually believe, and how much is a front.
Governor Jay Inslee of Washington says that people can tweet their fingers off. “But no one can stop our wind farms, they can’t stop Oregon’s cap-and-trade system. We’re in control of our own destinies.”
Meanwhile, the position of the official White House delegation is that our destiny is with clean coal. They even held a clean coal panel event. This sparked a huge protest.
First, Governor Inslee and Governor Kate Brown of Oregon confronted the panelists behind closed doors. We don’t know what they said, but when they emerged, the governors shared a fist bump, then marched on their way. “This is our finest hour,” Inslee declared.
Hundreds of other protesters remained. Almost everyone I talked to were fellow Americans, either students or business incubators or professionals or activists, old and young.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
Someone who’d managed to get inside the room tweeted, “we can hear you, but it’s not loud enough.” So the protest continued with redoubled vigor.
On another panel, Brown and his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger sat side by side. Brown, with a swagger that would have pleased a movie star, said: “The rest of you can’t let the world go to hell just because the US is temporarily in a corner. If America is doing less, then the rest of you have to do more. That’s just it.”
Schwarzenegger was a little more humble. “I don’t think China and India should pick up our slack. We the local governments, the state governments, should pick up the slack.”
Then he reminded us how when he’d been governor, he’d sued the federal government for trying to stop California’s strict emissions standards. “I took them all the way to the Supreme Court. They ruled in our favor,” even though, he noted, the Supreme Court had a conservative tilt. “They ruled that greenhouse gases are a pollutant. I mean, how stupid do you have to be to think greenhouse gases are not a pollutant?”
Perhaps the culmination of all this loud talk came when these governors, on behalf of fifteen American states, signed the U.S. Climate Alliance with Mexico and Canada. It’s a commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement, a declaration that clean energy is the way of the future.
Brown claimed that never before had fifteen state governments signed an agreement with two sovereign nations, neatly and utterly sidestepping the American federal government. “This is revolutionary, unprecedented, and powerful.”
They also made sure the signing ceremony occurred across from the official White House delegation. “They kept the door closed, but they knew we were there. It’s a case of: you can run, but you can’t hide.”
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