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Climate change is like war, says former California governor

WILLIAMS, CALIFORNIA (AP) – Former California Governor Jerry Brown is living off the grid in retirement, but he’s still deeply connected on two issues that captivated him while in office and now are centre stage globally: climate change and the threat of nuclear war.

The 83-year-old Brown, who left office in 2019, serves as executive chairman of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which sets the Doomsday Clock measuring how close humanity is to self-destruction. He’s also on the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Brown commended United States (US) President Joe Biden for not raising the US nuclear threat level after Russian President Vladimir Putin made veiled threats to use his country’s nuclear arsenal amid its war in Ukraine. Brown also urged Biden to resist Republican calls to increase oil production as gasoline prices soar.

“It’s true that the Russians are earning money from oil and gas, but to compound that problem by accelerating oil and gas in America would go against the climate goals, and climate is like war: If we don’t handle it, people are going to die and they’re going to be suffering. Not immediately, but over time,” said Brown, a Democrat.

Brown spoke to the AP last week from his home in rural Colusa County, about 60 miles northwest of Sacramento. The land in California’s inner coastal mountain range has been in Brown’s family since the 1860s, when his great-grandfather emigrated from Germany and built a stagecoach stop known as the Mountain House.

Former California Governor Jerry Brown. PHOTO: AP

The home Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, finished building in 2019 is called Mountain House III. The home is powered entirely by solar panels and is not connected to any local utility.

Though Brown is retired from electoral politics after serving a record four terms as California’s governor – from 1975 to 1983 and 2011 to 2019 – he is hardly absent from public life.

Brown has organised conversations with Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry; China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua; and former United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He created and chairs the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, which aims to boost collaboration on climate-related research and technology.

“No matter how antagonistic things get, cooperation is still the imperative to deal with climate and nuclear proliferation,” he said.

At the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, he brings an important political perspective as its scientists consider how to get their message out, said Group President Rachel Bronson. Last week, he joined the organisation’s science and security board as they formulated a statement on Putin’s nuclear threats.

The scientists decided to not update the Doomsday Clock, which in 2020 was moved ahead 20 seconds to be set at 100 seconds to midnight, the metaphorical time representing global catastrophe. They did, however, warn Russia’s invasion has brought to life the “nightmare scenario” that nuclear weapons could be used to escalate a “conventional conflict”.