When California Governor Jerry Brown took to the podium last night at the DNC to talk about climate change, there were two starkly different responses from the audience.

One faction of the California delegation led a celebratory cheer of “Jerry, Jerry.” Meanwhile, another group loudly chanted “ban fracking now” – illustrating the chasm between Californians when it comes to Jerry Brown and his climate legacy.

As his speech began, the continued chanting caused him to pause and address the audience saying, “That sounds good, but I only got five minutes.”

For those chanting his name in support, Governor Brown represents an admirable leader who understands the moral imperative of climate change, and one who’s taking steps to rapidly scale up renewable energy in his state. After all, California has more installed solar capacity than any other state, and some of the most aggressive emission reduction goals.

Californians are no stranger to Governor Brown’s high-level “climate” talks on national and world stages. Governor Brown traveled to Paris for COP21 for over two dozen events and to introduce his Under 2 MOU initiative. Before Paris, Brown even traveled to the Vatican for high-profile climate talks with Pope Francis.

Each of these instances has shined a spotlight on Brown’s unmistakable blind spot: despite forceful public pressure, Governor Brown refuses to address the issue of fracking, much less take steps to slow extraction in the state.

While Governor Brown has traveled around the world talking about climate change, he’s never once visited with the communities who live and go to school within a stone’s throw of oil wells and face the impacts of fracking and oil drilling everyday.

Activists in the Central Valley, where over 95% of the state’s fracking takes place, together with their allies, have collected thousands of signatures asking Governor Brown to visit Kern County and meet with communities. They’ve sent letters to his staff and even sat in front of his office door in the Capitol for hours. He refused to meet with them.

In all of his speeches, Governor Brown has never once acknowledged the human cost of oil extraction, and the devastation that communities face as a result. He’s refused to recognize the stories of people like Rodrigo Romo, whose daughter became sick because her junior high school had 45 fracked wells within a mile and a half of the campus.

Not only is Governor Brown ignoring the personal experience of those directly impacted, he’s willfully ignoring the science. Just last week, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a study linking fracking to “significantly higher” risk of asthma attacks. In 2014, it was found that California aquifers were contaminated with billions of gallons of fracking wastewater during a historic and devastating drought.

It’s not hard to see the influence of the oil lobby in Sacramento – but Brown seems complacent in this reality. This month, his administration  has been talking directly with oil companies in hopes of reaching a consensus on extending California’s landmark climate programs. As reported in the LA Times, “administration officials are exploring whether talking directly with oil companies could help clear a path in the Legislature.”

In 2015, the oil industry spent a record $22 million lobbying California legislators and officials. As a result, nearly every environmental bill opposed by Big Oil was either shelved or amended under pressure from the oil industry.

Compared to many of his Democratic counterparts, Brown seems comfortable with the status quo when it comes to fracking and oil. An avid believer in slow transition, he insists that extracting oil and fracking with “strict regulations” is the best California can do at this point in time.

Although Brown is a strong advocate for clean energy, California has increased oil production without adopting strict fracking regulations. What Brown needs to realize is that being a climate leader isn’t simply about getting people to switch to electric vehicles – it’s about shutting off the spigots and keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

We do have alternatives. We can transition away from oil and natural gas. We can do it fast, and we can do it in a way that respects communities. But, the first step is recognizing that fracking is a problem.

The voices of those chanting “ban fracking” will only continue to grow louder, and could ultimately undermine Brown’s legacy on climate. He spoke with conviction on Wednesday about the moral imperative to tackle climate change, now he needs to find the courage to act.

P.S. – Here are the driving directions from Sacramento to Kern County.


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