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The Riggs Report: The environmental evangelist

Gov. Jerry Brown hits the global stage

Governor Jerry Brown doesn’t hold a lot of news conferences. He doesn’t sit down for interviews with California media very often. He seems to prefer interviews with national media such as NBC’s Meet the Press or the Atlantic.

So it was notable-newsworthy on its own-that Brown consented this week to a round of interviews with Sacramento-based reporters in his Capitol office. That practice was common, by the way, with previous governors.

I sat down with governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis regularly; probably three to four times a year in which we covered a range of topics. Both consistently spoke to reporters after public events, unlike Brown. Both of their press offices held weekly press briefings, unlike Brown.

His decision to grant interviews this week, in light of that pattern, speaks volumes about the importance Brown attaches to the issue of climate change and its impact on the globe’s future.

“This is about your survival and your children’s survival,” Brown told KCRA 3’s David Bienick.

Brown once studied for the priesthood as a Jesuit seminarian, before trading that idea for the more secular pursuits of a political career. He’s still that politician, but has also become an evangelist with an environmental message about the importance of reducing carbon emissions.

Brown has made climate change a key part of his administration’s agenda. He’s traveled widely to speak about it. At home, he talks about it frequently and has been known to scold California reporters and editors for failing to devote enough ink, space, and air time to the topic.

Like any good evangelist, Brown greatly values an audience with whom to spread his message. Paris, hosting the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, provides that audience on a global scale.

“California has cut carbon pollution and grown its economy at the same time-and so can the rest of the world,” Brown said in a statement released by his office this week as he prepared to travel to France.

Over the course of five days, the governor will take part in 21 different events, delivering remarks and participating in roundtable and panel discussions.

One of those events, on Sunday, will feature a signing ceremony highlighting new members of a global compact that California has entered into with government leaders in Canada, Germany and elsewhere.

That pact’s goal is to prevent a further rise in global temperatures by having government agencies enact programs designed to cut carbon emissions. That’s where Brown argues California can influence world leaders to act accordingly, by serving as a model to follow.

He’ll get pushback from third world countries which are more concerned with economic growth than pollution controls.

Brown drew scorn four decades ago, when he was governor the first time, for talking about environmental protection. He has now seen the issue of climate change become mainstream, making Paris a platform like no other.