Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a film star who is also an environmentalist, stole the show at a gathering of mayors committed to climate and energy objectives held in the European Parliament yesterday (24 June).
Speaking to the annual meeting of the Covenant of Mayors, Schwarzenegger was applauded as he said that real drama was not in Hollywood movies, but in the climate change challenge.
“If we do nothing, we are on track for a temperature increase of 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. We have already seen in California the changes. There is no longer a fire season. We have fires all year round,” he said, adding that by 2011 when he was still governor there were around 2,000 forest and brush fires.
Schwarzenegger announced a partnership of his organisation Regions of Climate Action (R20) and the Covenant of Mayors.
R20 is a NGO he founded in November 2010 which aims public-private efforts to create a “green economy”.
Schwarzenegger paid tribute to Steve Jobs, the late Apple executive, and said he was trying to follow his motto “think differently”. He cited his own decision to become a film star despite the odds of being an Austrian with such an unpronounceable name.
Further on, he said he thought differently when he was advised as governor of California to wait for the adoption of a US government policy on climate change. And he did the same when he was advised not to protect the environment and pump up the economy.
Schwarzenegger said that probably most people believed that the best way to combat climate change was to have a new international agreement, a Kyoto-2, after the name of the treaty which entered into force in 2005 and which will expire in 2020.
“I love sequels,” said the actor who starred in three out of four Terminator action films. Amid laughs, he said that instead of waiting, he would think differently and seek action at local-government level.
In 2006, Schwarzenegger signed a pioneering climate-change and clean-energy law known as AB-32. Its centrepiece is an aggressive cap-and-trade programme for fossil-fuel pollution.
He said that the “old way” was to wait for the central government to decide and adopt legislation. But “the California standards” which were put in place during his two terms as governor from 2003 to 2011 were replicated by 14 other states and served as a basis for the US law signed by President Barack Obama in May 2009, Schwarzenegger explained.
“Believe me, there is a new way to move forward, a sub-national level, in addition to the national and international levels,” he said, mentioning the local authorities and the cities. He also insisted that the “best actions” in history, such as the movement against apartheid in South Africa or the independence movement in India have always started at grassroot levels.
“None of them started in any capital,” he insisted, giving as an example the mayor of Güssing, Austria, which struggled hard to meet its energy needs before its mayor Peter Vadasz carried out “a green energy revolution” by putting in place ambitious renewable energies projects.
Now, according to Schwarzenegger, Güssing was “inspiring the whole country”.
“Each of you has the power to be another Mayor Vadasz. Each of you can be a visionary who thinks differently. Each of you can inspire action that spans far beyond your cities,” he told the mayoral audience.
Schwarzenegger turned to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, telling the audience that R20 and the Commission would establish a “universal way of measuring and reporting the impact of subnational solutions”.
“We will be able to show the national governments and the UN how much cities and states are able to contribute,” he said.
Schwarzenegger also insisted that better communication of these efforts was needed.
“There is a new way. A hip way, a sexy way. Instead of gloom and doom and telling people what they cannot do, we should make them part of our movement and tell them what they can do,” he said.
He expressed his firm belief that a multitude of projects at grassroot level could create a "critical mass" to make a difference and trigger governmental and international action.
However, the audience was rather puzzled by the examples Schwarzenegger used to sell the idea that everyone could make changes in his lifestyle for a greener world.
“You can live the same life, just with cleaner technology,” he said, adding: “You can still have all the Jacuzzis that you want, only install solar panels."
The Hollywood star also defended his taste for oversize Hummer SUVs, saying that he was fuelling them with ethanol.