It may have been destiny calling California Governor Jerry Brown to join Pope Francis at the Vatican symposium last week for a two-day conference with 60 mayors from around the world to discuss climate change and modern slavery.
Although both men studied to become Jesuit priests as young adults, Governor Brown, now 77, changed course in 1960 to pursue an undergraduate degree in Classics at UC Berkeley. Since 1971, he has been elected to serve California in three separate statewide offices, including an unprecedented four terms as governor. He also served two terms as mayor of Oakland.
Brown's battle with oil companies dates back to the early 70s. When he was California's secretary of state, he argued personally before the Supreme Court of California and won an epic showdown against three major oil companies on campaign finance cases leading to the landmark Political Reform Act of 1974.
In 1960, Pope Francis officially became a Jesuit at the age of 21. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1969 and has been a lifelong advocate of the poor, social justice, and a humble lifestyle. Despite having to "rethink" his commitment to the church at a young age, his decision to stay was reaffirmed when he was elected to serve as the Catholic Church's 266th pope, at the age of 76. He is the first pope from the Jesuit order and the first pope from the Americas.
This year, Governor Brown and Pope Francis authored groundbreaking calls-to-action to sharply reduce our dependence on heat trapping fossil fuels.
On May 19th, Brown signed a non-binding climate pact that now includes 18 states and provinces in nine countries spanning across four continents. Each signatory pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80-95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, or set an annual emissions target of 2 metric tons per capita by 2050.
Five days later, Pope Francis signed his second encyclical, Laudato si', calling for a new understanding of the "human need for ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, and the serious responsibility of international and local policy."
The climate pact orchestrated by Governor Brown represents over 130 million people with a collective GDP of over $5.3 trillion. Pope Francis' encyclical was written on behalf of 5,000 Catholic bishops, 400,000 priests, and 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
At the Vatican symposium, Pope Francis and Governor Brown joined the mayors in signing a declaration stating "human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity."
The two-day conference was timed to help build momentum for an international climate agreement this December in Paris when representatives from 196 countries meet at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Anything less than a legally binding agreement translating into decisive action by 2020 would be considered a failure by most climate experts.
In his comments at the symposium, Brown unequivocally stated, "We're talking about extinction." He urged the mayors to take bold action, "You are the bottom of this power chain and you have got to light a fire." He also took aim at climate deniers who are "falsifying the scientific record and bamboozling people of every country."
Leading by example, Brown touted the actions that are already being implemented in California under his leadership. In April, he signed an executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
Also by 2030, Californians will derive 50 percent of electrical energy from renewable energy, they will use 50 percent less petroleum products in cars and trucks and will double their energy savings in existing buildings by increasing efficiency standards.
Pope Francis closed the discussion on climate change with warnings of "the boomerang effect against man when the environment is mistreated." He also reflected on our collective detachment from the earth and our reckless neglect for its deteriorating condition by calling our inaction "a lack of culture when man doesn't respect his relation to the earth."
Governor Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, must have felt a deep sense of satisfaction to be in Rome working closely with Pope Francis to save humanity from a planetary catastrophe. Both men are hoping for an international agreement at the climate talks in Paris later this year that limits global warming to an average increase of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
If the Paris talks are successful, their work together on climate change will be remembered as a major contribution to a monumental achievement of the 21st Century. It may even be considered a partnership made in heaven.