Arnold Schwarzenegger is shaping America’s climate change agenda. But critics say the billions pouring into California’s green industries are chasing Hollywood hype.
The Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada)
Arnold Schwarzenegger needed help. It was Aug. 9, 2003, three days after the Austrian-born actor had stunned Californians by announcing his bid to unseat Gray Davis, the Democratic governor, in a recall election. Overnight, Schwarzenegger had morphed from a gun-toting action star into a leading contender to become chief executive of the world’s eighth-largest economy.
Now, he was rushing to form a platform. Near the top of his list: global warming.
“I did not come into this campaign as an environmental expert,” says Schwarzenegger, who read the conservation speeches of President Theodore Roosevelt on his Gulfstream jet as he travelled east that August.
He was spending the weekend at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., with his wife, Maria Shriver, a member of late president John F. Kennedy’s clan. Schwarzenegger discussed his nascent environmental ideas with Robert Kennedy Jr., Shriver’s cousin and an outspoken environmentalist. Kennedy put Schwarzenegger in touch with Terry Tamminen, founder of Santa Monica Baykeeper, a group that combats water pollution in Southern California.
Tamminen was skeptical. He’d raised money for vice-president Al Gore’s White House run in 2000 and was critical of the Republican record. Now Schwarzenegger, 60, a Hummer-driving Republican, was asking a tree-hugging Democrat for advice.
“The Republican Party hadn’t covered itself with environmental glory,” says Tamminen. “Then I thought, this man could be the next governor, so don’t we want to make sure he has the most-progressive policies?”
Four years later, the “governator” has ushered in the Global Warming Solutions Act, the first U.S. legislation of its kind. The law, which Schwarzenegger signed on Sept. 27, 2006, requires California’s industries to cut greenhouse pollutants such as carbon dioxide 25 per cent, to 1990 levels, by 2020.
Five states — New Jersey, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii — have passed look-alike laws this year. Three bills in the U.S. Senate and two in the House of Representatives are pressing for 14 per cent CO2 reduction tar-gets by 2020.
“California is the model,” says Daniel Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. “Governors in a dozen states are now taking the issue seriously, and the groundwork is being laid for a federal policy.”
Other leaders rang the climate alarm before Schwarzenegger did. Gore called for environmental changes when he was vice president and heightened the debate with his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth and his Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded in October. Yet, it’s Schwarzenegger, a former bodybuilding champion who conquered Tinseltown by playing an unstoppable cyborg called the Terminator, who is writing America’s global warming script.
“I was very determined to prove that you could create economic growth and protect the environment simultaneously,” he says. “I knew that my strength was being a Republican. I could win the business community over.”
U.S. policy will create huge ramifications for the rest of the world: America is the No. 2 source of greenhouse gases, after China. If average global temperatures rise 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, as many scientists predict, California’s snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains could decline more than 70 per cent, jeopardizing the water supply for a projected 60 million people, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Environmentalists who’ve worked with Schwarzenegger beg to differ. “He’s serious about getting this right, and no one else could get the kind of media attention he can,” says Fran Pavley, a Democrat and former legislator from Southern California who co-authored the global warming law.
With results — and winners — to be determined, Schwarzenegger’s agenda has spurred a gold rush. The venture capitalists who midwifed the Internet boom have poured funds into the governor’s coffers and into startups making everything from so-called clean coal to ethanol derived from wood chips. Investments almost doubled in North America to $3 billion in 2006 from $1.6 billion in 2005, according to CleanTech Venture Network LLC.
Wall Street traders are eager to cash in on the green agenda. The governor is overseeing the establishment of an electronic cap-and-trade market set for 2012 that will permit buying and selling of carbon emission credits like a commodity.
The environmental policies that Schwarzenegger started forming that weekend in Hyannis Port are setting corporations, politicians, bankers, VCs and traders on a tumultuous path.
In the next decades, the world will see whether the governor’s global warming crusade is a good policy — or just old-fashioned Hollywood hype.