Two leaders coming from very different places and moving in very different directions are presenting very different faces for America in major international venues over the first half of November. Governor Jerry Brown is off to Europe for a nearly two-week tour centering on the UN Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany. President Donald Trump, who infamously withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Accords on climate change even as potentially disastrous changes loomed ever larger, is off to Asia on a 13-day tour. His ever changeable relationship with China, which he notoriously blamed for concocting climate change as a hoax to destroy American industry, will be center stage as he gropes his way through a North Korean nuclear missile crisis he has exacerbated with sophomorically counter-productive threats.
Let's get Trump's chaos tour out of the way first before getting to what Brown, the pioneering political figure behind energy conservation and renewable energy in America, is up to with his global Under2 Coalition and new United Nations role.
Ever since North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un realized that Trump was hyping the supposedly impending arrival off the Korean Peninsula of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group that had actually sailed in the opposite direction, he has had a more than a half-year long streak of largely successful and ever more alarming missile and nuclear tests. Trump keeps huffing and puffing and threatening to destroy the Hermit Kingdom, a nation of 25.5 million people, but it keeps on backfiring. The logical conclusion would be that Trump, who derided his secretary of state's efforts to pursue diplomacy with Pyongyang, is goading North Korea in order to make the crisis more acute. That's extraordinarily irresponsible, of course, but it is the sort of thing I've been warning about since I realized in summer 2015 that Trump and Trumpism was the coming thing in American politics.
What will Trump do on this trip?
Make things more confused and dysfunctional would be the most logical bet.
Because that is part and parcel of his underlying syndrome as an erratic megalomaniac with pronounced know-nothing, neo-fascist tendencies. And because his syndrome suits Trump's purpose to try to distract from his severe Russia scandal problem. Or, failing that, to create a situation in which the nation must rally around the White House. Or else.
After hopefully absorbing some basic facts in a visit to U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu (where witty protesters in Barack Obama's home state brandished signs saying "Welcome To Kenya!"), Trump has moved on to Japan with South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines on the unfolding itinerary.
Trump goes to Asia sheathed in incoherence.
He wants America to remain preeminent in the vast Pacific mega-region. But he ditched the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal without offering anything to replace it.
He wants China's help in reining in North Korea but offers no policy with which to attract China while resisting -- to the very limited extent that he is resisting -- China's efforts to establish sovereignty over the strategically crucial South China Sea.
He affirms America's commitment to South Korea's protection while threatening it with spurious trade sanctions. And he resists talking with North Korea, which most all the other players, including Trump's fave rave Vladimir Putin, with whom he will meet, want to happen.
Even though he won't be in Bonn for the UN Climate Summit after ludicrously withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords, Trump's "agent of chaos" act extends to the former West German capital.
For he is sending an official U.S. delegation which will push the use of coal as part of dealing with the changing climate.
Why doesn't he just call for developing Arctic oil resources as the ice cap melts, looking for more oil with which to cook the planet while freeing vast stores of the powerful greenhouse gas methane in the process? Oh, wait, he's already said he wants to do that.
So Jerry Brown, taking the Californian model of "re-powering the economy" of an advanced industrial state once again on to the world stage, has much to contend with as he leads the American efforts to pick up the slack caused by the advent of Trumpism. The New York Times recently explained why California, beginning with Brown's first governorship in the 1970s and '80s, has come to be such a powerful leader on environmental, energy, and transportation matters.
One big factor: The presence of Air Resources Board chief Mary Nichols. Brown appointed her to replace his first ARB chief, original Brown campaign manager Tom Quinn, who got the ARB off to a flying start, in 1979. Brown's former chief of staff Gray Davis made Nichols his natural resources secretary during his own governorship. Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brought Nichols in to run the ARB when he decided to ramp up California's climate change policy. And Brown of course retained her in that role.
Brown spoke Saturday at the Vatican in Rome, appearing before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences before an 80-minute private meeting with the head of the Jesuit order. Brown was a Jesuit seminarian for three years before re-entering secular life at UC Berkeley and Yale Law School. He called for nothing less than a transformation of our civilization. Deriding Trump for telling "lies within lies" with regard to climate change, he nonetheless dismissed the president as a relatively minor impediment in the overall scheme of things.
“The problem … is us," Brown stated. "It’s our whole way of life. It’s our comfort. It’s the greed. It’s the indulgence. It’s the pattern. And it’s the inertia.”
“The power here is prophecy. The power here is faith, and that’s what this organization is supposed to be about. So, let’s be about it and combine with the technical and the scientific and the political.”
Because far too many imagine that effective action has already taken place, with Trump as a momentary spanner in the works.
“At the highest circles, people still don’t get it,” Brown declared. “It’s not just a light rinse” that is needed. “We need a total, I might say ‘brain washing.' We need to wash our brains out and see a very different kind of world.”
Brown will be at this UN Climate Summit wearing several hats. Governor of California. Head of the global Under2 Coalition of mostly subnational governments committed to doing their proportional part of keeping temperature rise under a crucial 2 degrees Celsius. Leader of the U.S. Climate Alliance of states committed to trying to pick up the Trumpist slack in America. Co-leader with former New York Mayor and UN special envoy Michael Bloomberg of America's Pledge, which brings in more local American governments as well. Convenor of the State of California's UN-affiliated Global Climate Action Summit set for September 12-15 next year in San Francisco. And UN special advisor for states and regions.
In that capacity he's working with the chair of this year's UN Climate Summit, Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji. This is the first time that an island nation threatened by the rising oceans takes the lead in one of these summits. Because Fiji lost nearly a third of its gross domestic product to a major typhoon in early 2016, Angela Merkel's Germany has graciously stepped in to provide financing and hosting of the actual summit.
Still, it's a big step forward for a nation in Fiji's position. In the early part of this decade, Fiji and some other Pacific island and Caribbean island nations joined forces with a number of African nations also looking down the barrel of climate change to try to flip the usual advanced Western leadership of global environmental organizations. I liaised with them a bit as they went about establishing the World Nature Organization (WNO). But though it got off to a decent enough start with initial accreditation with the UN and other international organizations, the small and mostly impoverished nations most obviously threatened existentially by climate change were unable to get big Western funders to fund their more grassroots efforts, so the WNO drifted off into free-form irrelevance.
That's a missed opportunity. And Brown, who pushed unsuccessfully for more involvement of indigenous peoples when he went to the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro a few days after his last presidential primary in 1992, sees that clearly.
In the next 10 days Brown will discuss collaborative renewable energy work with European Union leaders in Brussels, Belgium; go to Stuttgart, Germany to address the state parliament of Baden-Wurttemberg (which with his California government founded the Under2 Coalition); convene top climate scientists from around the world in Oslo, Norway; and take part in the UN Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany. It’s another big series of steps in Brown’s drive for what he calls a “transformation agenda.”
The reality, and I’ll discuss the daunting scientific issues and policy shortfall in detail in a future piece, is that the Paris commitments are coming up short, as I wrote at the time of the Paris Accords. Unfortunately, the physical reality is worsening.
Hence the need for transformative thinking.
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