These days, you have to find Presidential leadership on the West Coast, not in the West Wing.

California Governor Jerry Brown deserves tremendous praise for demonstrating the sort of climate courage Donald Trump refuses to. Just as former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took steps to curb carbon pollution while George W. Bush dithered a decade ago, so too is Brown showing the difference between statesmanship and showmanship:

California operates a cap-and-trade market, allowing companies to buy and sell greenhouse gas emission allowances, making it more costly for companies to emit at high levels. China plans to start a national emissions trading plan by the end of the year.

Mr. Brown and other Democratic leaders of California have made clear that they would push ahead on the state’s leading-edge efforts to reduce all emissions no matter what happens in Washington.

Mr. Brown, clearly relishing the attention he was drawing to the state, said the lesson California had learned as it imposed limits on emissions was that it did not interfere with economic growth or cause hardship…

“I don’t think we’re going to have to put on a hair shirt and eat bean sprouts,” Mr. Brown said. “I think we can have quite a rich life, but we’re going to have to get going and make the transition.”

YouTube video

Brown is, unquestionably, doing the job Hillary Clinton would have done of continuing Barack Obama’s climate legacy. Like Obama, Brown may not check every box on a climate hawk’s wish list: it’s hard to see, for example, Brown going as far as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan have in terms of banning fracking in his state. However, compared to Trump, Brown is Bill McKibben.

There have been reports in recent weeks that Republicans in the California state legislature have, at long last, begun to disavow denial and recognize the need for common-sense solutions to the problem of carbon pollution. It is profoundly unlikely that any of these Republicans would have come around were it not for Brown using his voice to awaken their constituents to the threat posed by inaction on climate. A leader’s words always matter.

Brown is also helping to maintain our country’s international credibility on climate. He reminds the rest of the world that the man who pulled out of the Paris climate agreement doesn’t speak for anyone besides a benighted base that rejects reality. Brown’s words and actions can be cited by other signatories to the Paris agreement that the United States has not fully abandoned its moral obligations on the world stage.

Brown’s climate leadership should serve as a template for Democratic gubernatorial aspirants in 2018. Brown has proven that embracing the future of energy is both politically and economically wise. Brown’s speeches on climate have provided all the rebuttal one needs to push back against Republican denialism. He has provided, shall we say, the greenprint for pushing back against the polluters.

Ten years ago, on the title track to his album Planet Earth, Prince declared:

50 years from now what will they say about us here?
Did we care for the water and the fragile atmosphere?

There are only 2 kinds of folk
And the difference they make:
The ones that give,
And the ones that take.

Jerry Brown and Donald Trump represent those “2 kinds of folk.” 50 years from now, they’ll praise Brown for all that he did to fight the rise of the oceans and the worsening of the storms. As for Trump, they won’t be able to say his name without profanity.

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D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.