Gov. Jerry Brown, who once studied for the priesthood, will visit the Vatican in Rome this week to participate in a symposium on climate change for a meeting he said is both about public policy and a personal commitment tied to his years as a seminarian.
“Dealing with climate change does bring back my experiences as a young Jesuit seminarian back in the 50s. That era was one of being called to deal with the eternal verities and eternal truths and dealing with life itself, which is after all the climate and the air, the water and the health of species,” Brown told NBC4 Sunday.
Last month, Pope Francis presented a papal encyclical on the topic of environmental changes, the first of its kind. Critics, including several of GOP presidential candidates, believe the Pope should avoid taking sides on political issues such as the climate change debate, but Brown disagreed.
“I think religious authorities speak not to power as politicians and not to money as businesses, but rather to the moral dimension of how human beings should treat each other and other living things and the home that is our earth and our life," he said. "I do see the Pope as critical in making this dramatic shift to a more sustainable way of living."
Brown also on Sunday expressed support for Senate Bill 350, now being considered in the California legislature, which among other things targets a 50 percent reduction in gasoline consumption by the year 2030.
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The governor called the measure a “complex and comprehensive plan” which contains “all the elements that get the job done.”
Brown dismissed a study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation indicating the law could have serious consequences to the state’s manufacturing and transportation sector. But he acknowledged the difficulty in navigating a global challenge far outside the jurisdiction of one state. Recent estimates, for example, have China building a coal fired power plant every week.
“I recognize that if China keeps building coal plants we’re done. I don’t think they are going to do that," he said. "They are going to go beyond what the United States is doing.”
Some environmentalists have criticized Brown for not seeking a ban on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” which has bolstered oil and gas development in the state. He defended his record saying the practice was strictly regulated by the state.
"One subset of actions, say fracking, won’t alter the fact that California has 32 million vehicles and most of what they use is petroleum products” he said, adding that he believes California is on the path to being an international leader on climate change.
“This is bigger than World War II, this is bigger than a tsunami, bigger than the earthquake in 1906 and we’ve got to get off our behind here and take bold, courageous, systematic, thoughtful action," he said. "Anyone who stands in the way of that is harmful and is a threat to your children, your grandchildren and the well-being of the entire world."
After his trip to the Vatican, Brown will travel to Paris in December to speak at the UN Climate Conference. He joined activist Al Gore earlier in the month at the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto.