2015 Global Landscapes Forum: Governor Jerry Brown – Keynote

US Governor of California, Edmund G. Brown Jr. “Jerry”, speaks at the high-level plenary session from the second day of the Global Landscapes Forum 2015, in Paris, France alongside COP21.

The session builds a bridge between the research and policy communities, focusing on the role landscapes play in achieving SDGs and new climate goals. The session explores how useful the landscape approach is for achieving the new climate and development goals, provides concrete suggestions for policy and practice, asks how climate action in landscapes work, how we analyze changes over time, and how policymakers and their institutions acquire “environmental intelligence”.

Edmund G. Brown asserts that although climate change is a global challenge, local action is crucial and talks about the need to redesign our local communities to meet the challenge of climate change.

Sunday, 6 December 2015
Global Landscapes Forum, Paris, France
#GLFCOP21 #ThinkLandscape


Thank you very much. There is a lot to say, and I think the first point would be that we tend to live in very artificial environments. Built up environments that, without thinking about it too much, we assume are reality.

And yet the natural environment that is underlying everything, that’s something that is more remote. Whether it’s tearing down forests or paving over raw land or agricultural land, we have to get on the side of nature. And the development through the modern market system, science and technology, is incredible. To allow – instead of a billion people that was the norm for hundreds of years, and not too many less than that for thousands of years – now we’ve got 7.2 billion people and a billion cars.

It wasn’t very long ago, I think about 30 years ago, when the world only had 300 million cars. So where are we going down the road here? Two billion cars? Maybe more than that? If we take the California experience, California has about 39 million people and we need 32 million vehicles for those 39 million people. If we apply that to the 7.2 billion, we need close to 7 billion cars, 6.5 billion – which obviously is not possible.

So, in addition to the research and the science, we do need to consider how is humankind going to fit in with the natural systems? With the atmosphere above, and the soil below, and all the species and habitats that support these species, how do we fit in?

And as the dominant force now, humankind with all the impacts multiplying, we destroy and then through science and adaptation and innovation we try to compensate. Now, innovation, research – critical. But there’s also a rethinking of how human civilization should work.

And certainly understanding the local. Here we are at a world forum, but we all come from a specific place. And do people know about that place? When you go to school, certainly in California, you do study Californian history for a year in the fourth grade. And then you study American history and you may study world history. But you don’t study your neighborhood history – the history of the land on which you live. Who were the forebears? What about the fauna and the flora? What is this particular place? So that knowledge is fundamental.

And, going forward, research is needed not only for new tools, new techniques, more gadgets and more inventions, but we also have to find understandings that would counsel us on how to live with more compatibility with the natural systems on which we depend. And we’re a long way from that.

In fact, that’s not even a topic in most places and most news stories, most governing activities. This business of – you know, the Ancient Greeks had the saying, know yourself. Well part of yourself is the intimate surroundings that you inhabit. So learning how to really re-inhabit each place that we’re a part of. And that we do that in some collaborative way on a global level.

We look at the rainforests and their destruction, whether it’s in Indonesia or Brazil, but there’s a lot of destruction everywhere. And where can we reforest? And how much land do we devote to parking? To cement? To moving around? When you look at all of the cars, like in California for example, the vehicle miles traveled at least count was over 330 billion miles. That’s a lot of miles for 39 million people. And in order to do that, of course, you need highways, you need cement – cement is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases. And then you need places to put the car and people have to get – well, there’s a lot of things that go with that.

So we have to figure out new energy sources, but we also have to find new ways of living. And that’s actually showing up. More people are not owning cars or they’re sharing cars through various ride sharing programs. The same thing with housing. So looking at the world and getting more out of less stuff, you could call it efficiency or you could call it elegance. How do you live in the world, in the place you are, in a way that takes into account all the other parts that make life possible?

So the forests themselves, if you burn them all down, that’s 20 per cent of greenhouse gases. That’s big. So that’s a very important area that has nothing to do with coal or oil or gas. Also, whatever the fuel is, how much do you really need? How many trips would be needed? As a matter of fact, the number of trips in a place like California is going up. And then distance of the trips is going up. So we want to make sure that when we’re driving more frequently and longer, we like to do it in a zero emissions vehicle.

But another way to reduce emissions would be to drive less, and that’s where land use comes in. And in California we have some laws where we’re encouraging people to live closer to where they work. And the construction of habitats that would allow for a less destructive human community, that’s also very important. Not very easy.

Aligning land use with the environment is difficult because the cheapest land is usually the furthest land away. So if you go to what they call a green field, it’s a lot easier to build. If you want to go to an existing place, well, there’s already a character of an existing urban space. And whenever you try to alter the character, the neighbors say, well you’re changing our neighborhood – we don’t like that. And so building where people are with greater density, in greater elegance I would hope, is very challenging. Sprawl trumps urban density every time. Unless the laws, the taxes, the regulations, can be readjusted.

So that’s a whole other area besides renewable energy or zero emission cars or public transit. It’s just how we design our communities and where you have to live. Now, if you live in a place like San Francisco, the rents are going through the roof. So therefore people want to live 30 miles away, 50 miles away, 75 miles away. Then you have to drive every day. I think some huge percentage of people drive by themselves. I don’t know whether it’s 85 per cent, 90 per cent, but it’s a very big number.

So just redesigning how we all show up every day is a major contributor to reducing greenhouse gases, to protecting habitat, and reducing the onslaught on species diversity. So we’re on a track of destruction. I don’t know how many people remember the song, Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire. Listen to that song. I’ve always liked that song. I don’t know why. I get very excited about Eve of Destruction. Anyway, that’s what we’re here to prevent.

There’s so many things we’ve got to do and so much of it is local. This whole matter of a global challenge but local action required really is tying these two concepts together, and they both are crucial. Without these global commitments coming out of this conference, we have no chance of changing the policies and the ways of life and the technologies so that human beings can co-exist with all the other species. But if we don’t act locally, we miss quite a bit of the challenge.

So there it is. We need reforestation in every area. Wherever you can capture carbon by increasing vegetation. That’s very important. And then of course the agriculture could be more efficient. We can use water more efficiently. If we have more mass transit, we have more trains, less private vehicle trips. It wouldn’t take too much. If we could get from 90 per cent to 80 per cent, that would be a major impact.

So there is a lot that has to be done here at the Paris conference, COP21, and there’s a lot we can do where we come from. And that’s why this Under 2 MOU that now over 80 states, provinces and regions have now signed is very important. Because we’ve got to attack this problem at every level. And that’s where research and science comes in, because despite all the research and the science, the governing majority in the United States congress doesn’t believe it.

In fact, the head of the environmental committee is coming here. And when he gets off the plane the first thing he’s going to say is it’s all a hoax. What the hell are you doing here? All for a hoax? And I hope he’ll be greeted with loud cries of execration, or something like that. Because there’s a lot to know and there’s so many other things we’ve got to worry about. Climate change – well, maybe, we can put that off. But you can’t put it off too long because we don’t know enough to know when we’ve gone too far, when there’s too much carbon in the environment.

When we pass the tipping point, it can accelerate even more in a very non-linear way. So we have to be wary. The two degrees centigrade, I think still, there’s only a 50 per cent probability of stability. That’s why James Hansen and others say it should really be 1.5. We’re not even on track to do the 2 degrees.

So there’s a lot going on and it’s not one thing that’s going to do it. It’s all of this together. And that’s why I’m very excited about this conference. It is probably the biggest thing for climate change ever, because they’re all putting forward something and it’s all going to be clear what it is. And then right after this Paris conference ends, all the activists, the sub-national jurisdictions, can get going and keep pushing.

Because this is something – that the challenge is relentless. We can’t grow tired. All the things that we’re talking about, we’ve got to understand them better. So we do need more science. Maybe with less silos. And the world is not chopped up into – well, the world is in the academy – chopped up into disciplines. But reality is not. It’s rather arbitrary. So we do need the holistic sense. How do we see the community, the environment, the ecology, in a way that’s closer to the reality itself? And that requires new ways of thinking, a new sensitivity to what our lives are presented with and what our challenges are.

So the fact that you’re here, that’s good. But it’s just the beginning. This is going to be a long slog to get to where we need to go. So don’t work too hard, but keep it going, because we don’t want you to get tired or get bored or get excited about something else. This is really a lifetime challenge and task, and in that I join you.