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Amid Copenhagen Chaos, Schwarzenegger Promotes Change at the "Sub-National" Level

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Here in Copenhagen the talk is of frustration. Frustrated youth staged a "sit-in" in the Bella Center, refusing to leave. Some are being forcibly removed.

Danes I speak to on the street complain about the increase of police and the frequent sirens that pass through the streets. A march today held up traffic, and police are everywhere, even my hotel lobby where Santa appears to have delivered some police.

About 140 individuals, mostly heads of state, are arriving in private jets in the next few days, throwing off the airport's schedule and also affecting train schedules. One Danish girl complained that she would not be able to travel on Friday. (Of course, the fact that so many heads of state are arriving does give me some hope.)

I saw my governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger speak today. His fellow panelist, Hang Min, a solar tycoon from China, argued that California should adopt more solar water heaters, and then Hang asked Arnold if California would purchase more solar water heaters from China. Schwarzenegger responded that while he was open to such partnerships, he himself had no need because his family already had such a heating system for his jacuzzi.

After the audience laughed, Schwarzenegger discussed the push for solar in California and the state's goals to reduce carbon emissions. California has pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide pollution by 25% below so-called "business as usual" by 2020. If the rest of the developed world adopted this ambitious target, we might be on pace to solve climate change.

California is not alone. The day before I attended a conference of The Climate Group. Founded only five years ago, the group includes states, provinces, cities, and corporations from around the world that are dramatically reducing their carbon pollution. I saw governors of Wisconsin, Washington, Sau Paulo (state in Brazil), Manitoba, British Columbia, and many others speak about the economic opportunity of innovation and cutting carbon pollution. The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, set a target of 42% emissions reduction by 2020 (and then promised any leader who adopted the same goal a bottle of 42 proof scotch). Today we also attended a conference of mayors, where we heard about the ambitious plans of cities around the world.

It's encouraging that governments at the "sub-national" level are setting serious goals. During Schwarzenegger's panel, Arnold said, "It's embarrassing that we don't have a U.S. climate policy." He then added that maybe we shouldn't expect our federal government to lead. "All great movements, including the environment movement, come from the grass roots, not the capital. Cities and the states need to do the work, because they are the ones who will do the mitigation."

Maybe we can't look only to our heads of state to solve this challenge. Maybe we need to look to our local leaders. Maybe we need to look to ourselves to build the movement so that our leaders will follow.

Meanwhile, snow falls in Copenhagen, blanketing one of the Danes' primary means of transportation.

 

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