Yale Bulletin and Calendar

April 18, 2008|Volume 36, Number 26















California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the Declaration on Climate Change, which calls for mandatory federal and state action to reduce global warming. He was among the governors and representatives from 18 states to endorse the document, which warns "We have no time to lose."

U.S. governors call for federal action on
climate change during Yale conference

It is time to abandon “old ways of thinking” and the old-style politics of Democrats versus Republicans and liberals versus conservatives to confront the urgent issue of global climate change, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told a packed audience in Woolsey Hall on April 18.

Schwarzenegger gave the concluding address during the two-day Conference of Governors on Climate Change, hosted by Yale. He was one of four state governors during the event who publicly signed a historic declaration pledging to take action in their own states to address the problem of climate change and to call on the federal government to partner with states for that same cause.

The Woolsey Hall audience cheered enthusiastically as Schwarzenegger, Governor Jodi Rell of Connecticut, Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas signed the Declaration on Climate Change, which urges mandatory federal and state action, monitoring and financial incentives as part of a strategy to reduce global warming.

“To build this partnership we will coordinate our efforts and actively solicit the support of all governors and members of Congress who are also serious about the need to take action now to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases — at all levels of government,” states the declaration. “In addition, we will reach out to major presidential candidates as a means of shaping the first 100 days of the next administration. We have no time to lose.”

The signing of the declaration took place during the final session of the conference, which also featured a public address by Nobel laureate R.K. Pachauri, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In addition to the four governors, representatives from 14 other states pledged their support for the declaration on behalf of their state governments. Also on hand to show support for the declaration were representatives from Mexico and the Czech Republic, as well as two Canadian provincial premiers.

The Yale conference celebrated another historic meeting that took place 100 years ago when President Theodore Roosevelt held a landmark meeting of governors at the White House that launched the modern conservation movement, planted the seed for the National Parks System and inspired state efforts to protect land.

The centennial gathering also celebrated Yale’s environmental tradition, according to Dan Esty, the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy and an organizer of the event. During his welcome address, Esty noted that one of Roosevelt’s top advisers, Yale alumnus Gifford Pinchot, was present at the May 1908 meeting. Pinchot, who graduated from Yale College in 1889, played a critical role in the land conservation movement, served as the first head of the National Forest Service and helped found Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). Among the conference participants were Roosevelt’s great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, and Pinchot’s grandson, Gifford Pinchot III.

The conference featured discussion among the governors and other environmental leaders and policymakers about state-level actions and innovations to confront the problem of climate change. It culminated in the declaration signing and public addresses in Woolsey Hall by Rell, who co-hosted the event with Yale, Pachauri and Schwarzenegger.

Woolsey Hall was filled to overflowing for the April 18 program. Participants included (from left) President Richard C. Levin, Nobel laureate R.K. Pachauri, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Dean J. Gustave Speth and Professor Dan Esty.

State-level commitment

In his remarks at Woolsey Hall, Esty said the signing of the declaration represented a “serious step forward” and demonstrated a bipartisan commitment among the state leaders to addressing the challenge of climate change.

The 18 states that pledged their support for the declaration, Esty commented, represent half of the U.S. population. These states also contribute more than half of the nation’s greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. If those who signed the declaration represented countries rather than states, he said, it would be the equivalent — in total emissions — to four European countries: Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

Yale President Richard C. Levin, who has become an international spokesperson about the ways in which higher-education institutions can address climate change, said the declaration signing at Yale was a “proud day” for the University.

He noted the University had launched aggressive initiative to reduce its own GHG emissions to 43% of its 2005 level by 2020 (the University has already achieved a 17% reduction in the last two years alone). He lauded the efforts of Yale faculty members who have been leaders in protecting the environment, including Esty, who served as a chief negotiator for the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change; and F&ES Dean J. Gustave Speth, who founded two prominent environmental organizations — the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute. Levin added that through its academic programs, the University is helping to train and prepare students for “careers as stewards of our environment.”

The University, he said, is demonstrating that a reduction in its carbon footprint is “not only feasible but affordable,” noting that Yale will achieve its GHG reduction goal at a cost of about 1% of its operating budget, possibly even less.

“Who among us would not be willing to pay a tax of one-half of 1% to save the planet?” he asked the audience.

Rell described the "One Thing Project," launched last year, which urges Connecticut residents to take one action every day to conserve energy. Given the state's population, she said, "That would result in more than two billion 'one things' in the course of a year."

Levin praised Rell, Schwarzenegger and the other governors at the conference for their climate change initiatives, but said that national legislation on the issue is paramount. “I hope it will be enacted soon,” he stated.

Rell lauded Yale’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions and noted that the University earned the state’s Climate Change Leadership Award last year. She, too, said it was imperative to reach across party lines to take action on climate change. She praised such collaborations as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative venture of Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce GHG emissions, and the Climate Registry, a voluntary GHG-emissions reporting organization whose members include U.S. states, several Canadian provinces and Mexican states.

“We must take steps to lower our carbon emissions not just to save this planet but to set the challenge for a new economy,” Rell told the audience. She cited a number of Connecticut industries, including United Technologies and General Electric, which are committed to the development of “green-collar” jobs, those that focus on improving the environment.

Last year, Rell urged Connecticut citizens to take one action every day to conserve energy, such as unplugging cell phones and other electric appliances and turning off lights — a campaign dubbed the “One Thing Project.”

“Think about this,” commented Rell. “There are three-and-a-half million people in the state of Connecticut. If each of us did one thing every single day, think about how many one things that really could be. That would result in more than two billion ‘one things’ in the course of a year.”

Rell quoted Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” To which the governor added, “I believe we can and I know you do, too.”

Global threats and warnings

Pachauri, who shared the Nobel Prize with former vice president Al Gore for bringing environmental threats to the world’s attention, discussed some of the challenges to the planet from an increase in global temperatures associated with human activity.

“Climate change is part of a much larger problem,” he told the audience. “In our drive toward industrialization, as we provide more goods and services to human society, we’ve pursued a path of development that is unsustainable.”

He said the average increase in temperature in the 20th century was 0.74 Celsius, a much higher increase than what the IPCC had predicted in one of its four world environmental assessments.

“If you look at the warmest years in history, 11 of the 12 warmest have occurred in the last 12 years,” Pachauri noted, adding that the changes wrought by this temperature increase are now “observable” and that anyone who still thinks that global warming is a myth is “naïve.”

Eleven of the 12 warmest years in history occurred during the last dozen years, noted R.K. Pachauri, who shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore for calling attention to the issue of global warming. He now chairs the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The continued rise in temperature as a result of fossil fuels and GHG emissions, Pachauri claimed, will result in an increase in severe droughts and floods, extreme precipitation events (such as vast quantities of rainfall over a short period of time) and changes in sea level. He said that glaciers are melting “at such a rapid rate” that the entire world will eventually experience what could be “abrupt and irreversible changes.” He added the possible collapse of the ice shield in Greenland and west Antarctica could result in the endangerment or extinction of 20% to 30% of species and put the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at risk.

Further consequences of weather disruptions and other effects of climate change, he said, include a decline in agriculture yields and productivity, an increase in vector-borne diseases and lack of water in some places. He warned that these problems would threaten world peace and stability, noting that there would be rioting and demonstrations in countries where food and water become scarce.

If the world does not act to mitigate GHG emissions, Pachauri said, the resulting problems will “exceed the capacity of human society to adapt” to the environmental challenges it will face.

“The good news is that mitigation is not an expensive proposition,” commented Pachauri, adding that the cost to the world economy is less than 3% of the GDP.

The lack of U.S. national leadership in the issue of climate change, Pachauri told his audience, is affecting the country’s reputation throughout the world. However, he praised the efforts of state governments for taking independent action.

Pachauri urged nations to put a price on carbon to incorporate incentives into the economic system. He also said lifestyle changes are important, agreeing with Rell that a commitment to make such changes a part daily life are critical. While acknowledging that the IPCC’s role is to make assessments rather than recommendations, he said he personally thinks that people should eat less meat.

“You’ll be healthier and so would the planet,” he said.

On a positive note, he said that in his home country of India, he has been engaged in an innovative effort to bring energy to some of the 400 million people there who don’t have electricity. In some villages, solar panels are used to charge lanterns and flashlights in once-dark villages.

“We have to think outside the box,” Pachauri told the audience. “We all live on one planet and we have to face the challenge together.”

The conference included a panel at the Law School, where (from left) Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Governor John Corzine of New Jersey, Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Manitoba Premier Gary Doer discussed the innovative strategies that their states or provinces were pursuing to address global warming.

Growing momentum

California has the seventh largest economy in the world, and it is wielding its influence to be a leader in enacting legislation and developing initiatives that help to curb global warming, Schwarzenegger said in his talk.

He noted that his state has pledged to cut GHG emissions by 25% to 1990 standards by 2020, and an additional 80% by 2050. Other measures the state has taken include reducing the carbon content in transportation fuels, working to preserve the state’s coastline and implementing a Green Building Initiative that promotes the construction of more energy-efficient buildings. His state also formed partnerships with other U.S. states as well as some Canadian provinces and European nations to combat climate change.

“We don’t wait for Washington, because Washington is asleep at the wheel,” he commented.

Schwarzenegger said he has been criticized for some of his initiatives, noting that about a year ago, a billboard in Michigan proclaimed, “Arnold to Michigan: Drop dead,” on account of the perception that his state’s emission standards have hurt the auto industry.

“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying ‘Arnold to Michigan: Get off your butt,’” he quipped.

“California may be doing more to save the U.S. auto industry because we’re pushing it to change,” Schwarzenegger added.

Calling himself a “believer in technology,” the California governor said he thinks that technological innovations will not only save Detroit but will also save the American economy in general. He noted that his state is on the leading edge in creating an “environmental economy,” in which scientists and venture capitalist are “racing for new technology” that is both “clean” and “green.”

“There is a huge pressure, fueled by billions of dollars, to find new sources of energy,” Schwarzenegger told the audience, adding that “Capitalism — long the alleged enemy of the environment — is giving new life” to the environmental cause.

The California governor compared today’s environmental movement to body-building. He said that when he first came to American 40 years ago, body-building was an activity that most people were ashamed to say they engaged in, whereas eventually discussion of “abs,” “six-packs” and other terms associated with the sport became part of popular vocabulary. Similarly, while the environmental movement was once associated with “tree-huggers” and “weird fanatics,” it has become “hip, cutting-edge, self-confident, even sexy,” he said.

Schwarzenegger acknowledged that trying to “guilt” people out of buying big-screen televisions and other energy-using gadgetry is not likely to accomplish anything.

“I don’t think any movement has ever made much progress based on guilt,” he commented. “Guilt is passive, inhibitive. Successful movements are built on passion, on confidence, on Teddy Roosevelt’s bully pulpit, on critical mass. The environmental movement has switched from being powered by guilt to something much more positive and dynamic … capable of bringing about revolutionary change.”

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, told the audience that he believes that whichever presidential candidate wins the election, the new U.S. leader will support national legislation to deal with climate change.

“Things will pick up speed after inauguration day,” the governor said. “We know that for sure.”

He also noted that some measures that would benefit the environment have been blocked equally by Democrats and Republicans, as well as by environmental activists. He cited a plan in California to build a solar facility that has been challenged by the Department of Fish and Game on the basis that it could endanger the habitat of a squirrel “never before seen.”

“So a squirrel that may not exist is holding up environmental progress,” Schwar­zenegger said. “If we can’t put a solar plant in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where we can put it.

“This is the real world,” he continued. “We have to make tradeoffs. I think both environmental activists and their opponents cannot let ‘perfect’ become the enemy of the ‘possible.’ The fact of the matter is, nothing is perfect.”

Schwarzenegger urged the many students in his audience to be open-minded in their search for creative solutions to environmental challenges.

“Do not accept or dismiss anything because it has a label — a Republican label or a Democratic label, a conservative label or a liberal label. Think for yourself,” he said. “I have great faith in you to find good new approaches. … Stir things up. Be fresh in the way you look at things. I believe in what you can accomplish.”

While acknowledging there are great challenges ahead in dealing with the issue of climate change, Schwarzenegger asked his audience members not to be pessimistic about the ability to solve them.

“You can feel big things moving,” he said. “You can feel big things coming together. … Every day I see things happening in California and I tell you, things are starting to move our way.”

The conference can be viewed on video at www.yale.edu/climateleaders.

By Susan Gonzalez


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