Governor Jerry Brown kicks off California climate change conference with attack on 'deniers'
Posted: 12/15/2011 10:35:30 AM PST
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown kicked off his high-profile climate conference Thursday with a blistering attack on libertarians, the Republican party and others who deny that climate change is under way, despite overwhelming scientific consensus that sea levels are rising and the Earth is warming.
Brown convened about 250 business and energy policy leaders to "Extreme Climate Risks and California's Future," a one-day conference at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The conference focused partly on how the state can prepare for the economic and human affects of climate change.
In his opening remarks, Brown ripped Republicans in Congress for inaction on national climate change legislation.
"We have an entire political party who has a doctrine of absolute denial," said Brown, who was wearing a green tie. "All the denial in the world doesn't change the facts that greenhouse gases are building up. The main thing we have to deal with in climate change is the skepticism, the denial and the cultlike behavior of the political lemmings that would take us over the cliff."
In California, the affects of climate change are already being felt. The state is experiencing more rain than snow, and when it does snow it melts sooner, putting increased pressure on the state's critical levee system. There are a higher number of extreme heat days, while cold extremes have become more rare. The public health affects are enormous: Extreme heat can kill the elderly, farmworkers, infants and other vulnerable populations.
Brown spoke on a panel with Sir Richard Branson, the British business leader behind Virgin Group and Virgin Airlines, and Rajendra Pachauri, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Since government doesn't have its act together, it's up to business to step in," Branson said. Branson's Virgin Airlines is touted as the "greenest" airline in the industry, and his Virgin Green Fund heavily invests in biofuels.
Brown signed legislation requiring California's utilities to get one-third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and he supports putting solar panels on rooftops across the state. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed California's landmark greenhouse gas-reduction law known as AB 32, was scheduled to speak at Brown's conference later in the day.
But while California is a leader in renewable energy, the state is also looking forward and thinking about the cost of climate change.
Bryan Murphy, chief claims officer of Farmers Insurance, noted that insurance companies look at probability when insuring property. The number of extreme weather events has skyrocketed, leading insurance companies to pay out unprecedented numbers of claims.
In 2011, the nation has experienced deadly tornadoes, drought and wildfires in Texas and massive flooding from Hurricane Irene, which ravaged states like Vermont.
In 2011, there were more significant weather events than in any year in the last 20, Murphy said. "We had over 20,000 severe weather events. The insurance industry is very interested in the subject of climate change."
Max Auffhammer, an environmental economist at UC Berkeley, said if there is a 4-foot rise in sea levels by the end of the century, and then a storm surge, both the San Francisco and Oakland airports would be under water. So would parts of Silicon Valley, he said.
"What's the cost of this going to be?" Auffhammer asked. "There's the cost of doing nothing versus the cost of doing something. You know you are going to get older -- do you plan for old age?"