Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Jerry Brown thinks we all need a total brainwashing to avoid the extinction of all mammalian life due to climate change.
Jerry Brown, President of the Independent Republic of California
As he crusades across Europe, the governor is acting like the leader of a sovereign country—an alternative to the United States in the Trump era.
By DAVID SIDERS November 11, 2017
Bonn, Germany, this week, Jerry Brown stopped over at the Vatican, where a doleful group of climate scientists, politicians and public health officials had convened to discuss calamities that might befall a warming world. The prospects were so dire—floods and fires, but also forced migration, famine and war—that some of the participants acknowledged difficulty staving off despair.
California’s doomsayer governor did not express much optimism either. Seated between an economist and an Argentine bishop at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Brown leaned into his microphone and said, “It is despairing. Ending the world, ending all mammalian life. This is bad stuff.”
“There’s nothing that I see out there that gives me any ground for optimism,” he went on. Still, he promised action: “I’m extremely excited about doing something about it.”
In one sense, Brown’s fixation on climate change would seem unremarkable, the predictable conclusion of a career steeped in the ecological and environmental movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, early Earth Day rallies and the Stockholm conference on the environment weighed heavily on the public consciousness when Brown was starting out in politics, and observers of a certain age will still recall him mystifying audiences with pronouncements about “planetary realism” and the “spaceship Earth.” He was still talking about the need for a fundamental shift in lifestyle when he said at the Vatican that confronting climate change will require “a transformation of the relationship of human beings to all the mysterious network of things.”
“It’s not just a light rinse,” Brown said. “We need a total, I might say, brainwashing. We need to wash our brains out and see a very different kind of world.”
But in his climate diplomacy today, Brown is performing a more urgent, final act. For nearly all his public life—from secretary of state to governor, to mayor of Oakland and state attorney general before becoming governor once again, at age 72—Brown’s near-constant state was to run for public office. Now, for the first time, he is not. Term limits will chase Brown from the state Capitol in January 2019, and today he calls climate change his “campaign,” dismissing the idea that after running unsuccessfully for president three times, he might try again in 2020. “I’ve thought because people like you ask me,” he said in an interview before leaving for Europe. “But no, I’m not running.”
Now, Brown’s future rests on a family ranch in Northern California, where he is nearly finished building a remote, off-the-grid home. These days, he talks more about rattlesnakes and wild boar than the presidential election, and he has turned his focus from electoral politics to more existential concerns.
Perhaps retirement is what Brown had in mind, when Jerry Brown instructed state regulators to survey his Northern California ranch for oil in 2015. Despite the disappointing results of the survey, income from Brown’s land holdings, his governor’s pension and whatever other investments he has accumulated should make for a comfortable retirement.