Yale brought prestige, Nobel Laureate R. K. Pachauri brought expertise and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger brought star power to last week’s much-hyped climate-change conference, which University officials have long hoped would be an impetus for real momentum on the issue.
Echoing President Theodore Roosevelt’s conference of governors 100 years ago at the White House, which prompted the modern environmental movement, the two-day conference drew several state governors and foreign leaders to campus Thursday and Friday. The featured events included a panel discussion of state efforts to fight climate change and a public signing of a policy statement on a federal-state partnership to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
While only four state governors — New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, Schwarzenegger and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius — were present for the Friday signing of the 2008 Governors’ Declaration on Climate Change, 14 other state governors signed the statement before the conference.
At the signing, University President Richard Levin and Pachauri delivered speeches about the future of climate change initiatives but, in the end, it was Schwarzenegger who stole the show with characteristic zeal.
When Levin asked the attending governors to join him for a photograph, the murmurs swept a packed Woolsey Hall. “Where is Arnold?”
As if on cue, building the suspense as only a Hollywood veteran could, Schwarzenegger emerged from a back door onto Woolsey’s stage, triggering thunderous applause as he joined Levin and three other governors for a photograph.
Rell, Sebelius and Corzine had just finished delivering their remarks and signing the policy statement to curb greenhouse-gas emissions when Schwarzenegger took the stage.
As he added his signature, frenzy seized the herd of photographers at the foot of the stage. Schwarzenegger paused deliberately, posing and smiling broadly at the press, drawing chuckles from the audience.
In his 23-minute speech, bookended by standing ovations, Schwarzenegger emphasized the urgency of the global warming threat and called for immediate action, with or without Washington.
“We don’t wait for Washington because Washington is asleep at the wheel,” he said to applause. “America has to lead, and we’re doing so even without Washington.”
Schwarzenegger presented an analogy between the defining feature of his entertainment career — bodybuilding — and what has become the defining theme of his political career — climate change.
Both body-builders and environmentalists were originally considered weird and outside the mainstream, he said, but just as weight lifting has become a mainstay at fitness clubs nationwide, environmentalism is finally starting to become a mainstream current of political thinking.
He said the environmental movement, too long dependent on guilting people into action, is on the verge of new inspiration based on passion.
The political deadlock that has paralyzed progress on climate change is “about to be broken,” he predicted, and any of the three presidential contenders would be good for the environment, he said. But, riffing on the popular Discovery Channel show “Mythbusters,” he said he wanted to dispel the illusion that Republicans and businesses stand in the way.
Schwarzenegger heralded the example of California, the world’s seventh-largest economy, as a new symbiosis between the market and the environment.
“Capitalism, long the alleged enemy of the environment, is today giving new life to the environmental movement,” he said in his trademark accent.
Turning to politics, he said mainstream Republicans — himself included — are not an obstacle to environmental progress. Instead, it is environmentalists who can sometimes be obstructive, he said. The red tape created by some “environmental regulation,” he said, could actually hinder pragmatic “environmental progress.”
He predicted the advent of an environmental revolution, like the industrial and technological revolutions that came before. Young people would be instrumental in embracing and advancing that revolution, he said.
Earlier that day, a contingent of the state governors, Canadian premiers and environmental officials met in the Law School auditorium to discuss efforts to counter climate change through an interstate agreement that would send strongly encourage the federal government to work closely with local and state governments.
The officials on the panel, who spoke to a packed auditorium, shared their states’ achievements in combating climate change and criticized the federal government for its stagnant climate policy and unwillingness to support states’ efforts. They encouraged a policy whereby local, state and — potentially — the federal government could work together to counter climate change.
Sebelius told the crowd that combating climate change is too difficult an endeavor for states and local governments to go at it alone.
“What we desperately need is clear national policy,” she said.
Yet the urgency of the issue has galvanized state and local-governments to collaborate in order to introduce new, comprehensive climate change policy, which, Sebelius said, the federal government is doing little to develop.
Corzine also outlined his vision to combat climate change. The New Jersey governor — a staunch supporter of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, put forward by a coalition of northeastern and mid-Atlantic states whose goal it is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — said he supports a “Cap-and-Trade Program,” which would “actually put a price on carbon emissions.”
“I am very proud of what the regional governors in the Northeast are doing.” Corzine said.
But he also echoed Sebelius’ concern about federal involvement in the creation of comprehensive, national policy on climate change.
“We have a vacuum in the federal government,” he said.
When asked about the Environmental Protection Agency’s letter to Schwarzenegger, in which the EPA refused California’s request for a waiver to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the grounds of states’ jurisdiction, Corzine responded, “See you in court.” Corzine said that states curb climate change through a variety of legal methods, including taxing adjustments on energy bills, modifying building codes and implementing a cap-and-trade program.
Despite talk of states’ rights, climate change is not an exclusively American issue, representatives of other governments pointed out.
“Here is an issue that transcends out borders and sovereignty … that is going to have a large impact on our lives,” Quebec Premier Jean Charest said.
Charest, who supports the Kyoto Protocol and greater cooperation between the United States and Canada, said Quebec is currently feeling the effects of climate change in its arctic region.
“Real decisions and actions are going to happen on our level, so let’s make it happen,” he said.
According to Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, Manitoba “will be impacted, and is being impacted, by climate change.” Doer said there could be dire repercussions for Manitoba’s endangered species if climate change is not properly addressed.
Doer also delineated his plan to combat climate change.
“We believe large emitters [of greenhouse gas emissions], including coal, have to be eliminated as a part of our strategy,” he said.
Cap-and-trade systems should be utilized and implemented, and carbon taxes should be implanted for coal, he said. Manitoba is aiming to be “coal-free” by the year 2012, Doer said.
Ultimately, the governors and premiers agreed that climate change cannot be curbed without cooperation from all levels of government.
“We all know that we cannot move alone,” Charest said.
But it was Schwarzenegger who had the last word at the signing that afternoon. Momentum is building for the environmental protection movement, he said.
“Things are about to move our way,” he concluded.