You’re a Sad Man, Jerry Brown

At the U.N. climate change Conference in Bonn, Jerry Brown couldn’t shake his hecklers.

Kate Aronoff December 6, 2017

Activists protest the speech of California Gov. Jerry Brown at the November 11 launch of the U.S. Climate Action Center. (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)

BONN, GER­MANY — Jer­ry Brown was not at ease, shuf­fling papers and hasti­ly sip­ping water before the mod­er­a­tor turned to him. Dressed in a boxy suit, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia was seat­ed on stage at the U.S. Cli­mate Action Cen­ter (USCAC), a flashy, igloo-shaped tent home to a self-styled U.S. shad­ow gov­ern­ment out to work around Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cli­mate obsti­nance. They’d come to Bonn for the UN cli­mate talks known as COP23, the first inter­na­tion­al cli­mate talks since Trump announced he would with­draw from the Paris Agreement.

Billionaires were the most optimistic people at COP23.

That morn­ing, a few dozen activists loud­ly inter­rupt­ed Brown’s remarks at the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny, then filed out of the tent to protest the governor’s cor­po­rate-backed cap-and-trade pro­gram and his sup­port for California’s oil and gas industry.

Brown lat­er gave a boil­er­plate speech on why Amer­i­cans should take cli­mate action seri­ous­ly, and blurt­ed, By the way, those pro­test­ers ear­li­er, they’re wrong on cap-and-trade.”

Right after fin­ish­ing, Brown inter­rupt­ed the mod­er­a­tor to address some of the folks who were giv­ing us trouble.”

Most of the crit­ics ride around in cars and fly around in air­planes,” he said. We’re caught up in car­bon. Some minds are not sub­tle enough to appre­ci­ate the para­dox.” The man sit­ting next to him on stage — an exec­u­tive from PG&E, one of the country’s largest pri­vate util­i­ties — let out a laugh.

Bil­lion­aires were the most opti­mistic peo­ple at COP23. It was easy to feel upbeat amid the com­forts of the mul­ti-mil­lion­dol­lar USCAC, bankrolled by for­mer New York City May­or Michael Bloomberg and a slew of cor­po­rate spon­sors, many of which had space on stage dur­ing the week-plus of pro­gram­ming. There was a free espres­so cart, com­fort­able seat­ing and com­pli­men­ta­ry copies of Bloomberg’s book, Cli­mate Hope, doled out by bright-eyed young staffers. Main-stage pro­gram­ming fea­tured titles like Busi­ness Lead­ing the Way” and Bipar­ti­san Solu­tions to the Cli­mate Cri­sis.” Despite Trump leav­ing the Paris agree­ment, the coali­tion of politi­cians and exec­u­tives in USCAC declared, We Are Still In.”

The pro­test­ers were less sun­ny. After secu­ri­ty escort­ed them out, those who had inter­rupt­ed Brown hud­dled for a debrief in the mud­dy area out­side the tent. Near­ly all hailed from the Unit­ed States, and many from com­mu­ni­ties deal­ing first-hand with the impact of the kinds of extrac­tion Brown has been wary of halting. 

Eva Malis, 22, took part in and helped plan the inter­rup­tion. She grew up in Valen­cia, Calif., and already has expe­ri­ence going head-to-head with Brown. I’ve spent count­less hours try­ing to get Jer­ry Brown to stop frack­ing in Cal­i­for­nia and put a com­plete ban on it,” she tells In These Times.

Brown has close ties with the fos­sil fuel indus­try that go back to his father, for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Pat Brown, who made a for­tune in oil. Both Jer­ry Brown and the state’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty have tak­en large dona­tions from oil and gas com­pa­nies. Last sum­mer, Brown worked with them on draft­ing a watered-down cap-and-trade bill that he spent much of his time at COP23 lion­iz­ing as a model.

Being here as a Cal­i­forn­ian and see­ing Jer­ry Brown hon­ored as a cli­mate hero is real­ly frus­trat­ing,” Malis says. The USCAC that Sat­ur­day after­noon was a rough micro­cosm of the two faces of resis­tance to Trump’s cli­mate denialism.

The first — head­ed up by Brown, Bloomberg and com­pa­ny — sees cor­po­ra­tions and local gov­ern­ments as capa­ble of con­fronting cli­mate change, fed­er­al man­dates be damned. Activists argue that only sys­temic change, includ­ing strict reg­u­la­tions and a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly con­trolled renew­able ener­gy sys­tem, can avert cat­a­stro­phe. Any­thing less, they say, will send human­i­ty hurtling along a path to destruc­tion, with work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or on the front lines.

A few days lat­er, the gov­er­nor still seemed ran­kled by the protests. Asked by the Sacra­men­to Bee if he was enjoy­ing him­self in Ger­many, he replied, No, I hate every­thing. Why do you ask that sil­ly question?”

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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