Christiane Amanpour interviews California Governor Jerry Brown from the Bonn Climate Conference.
Christiane Amanpour interviews California Governor Jerry Brown from the Bonn Climate Conference.
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California Gov. on climate fight: 'We're in'

Editor’s Note: Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for The Athletic and the author of the upcoming book, “Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN) —  

My wife, kids and I moved to Orange County from New York nearly four years ago. Like New York, California is far from perfect. Development is out of control. The drought is scorching us alive. We’re home to way too many Kardashians, as well as a Bieber. Universal Studios is overpriced and overrated.

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But one of the greatest things about this state is its determination to be environmentally friendly and socially conscious. I’ve never lived anywhere as concerned about the planet. Dating back to 1970, with the passage of the California Environmental Quality Act, the Golden State has led the country (and a good part of the world) in placing its citizens’ health and wellness over corporate greed and gains.

Now the Trump administration is trying to cripple California’s ability to clean its air and fight climate change. It wants to end federal rules to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars, and to revoke California’s waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to regulate carbon emissions from tailpipes.

In high-level political speak, it is a controversial effort to impose federal will over a state’s mandate and blah blah blah.

In straight-up human speak, it’s friggin’ infuriating.

In his 16th and final State of the State address this past January, Gov. Jerry Brown emphasized his environmental legacy over all other accomplishments. “Whether it’s roads or trains or dams or renewable energy installations or zero-emission cars, California is setting the pace for the entire nation,” he said. “Yes, there are critics, there are lawsuits and there are countless obstacles. But California was built on dreams and perseverance and the bolder path is still our way forward.”

A few weeks ago, my state’s Air Resources Board announced that in 2016 greenhouse gas levels fell below 1990 totals. That was more than four years before the target date. Earlier this year Brown signed an executive order that set a goal of 5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2030.

I’m friends with many California Republicans, many California Democrats and a good number of California independents. There are myriad opinions on the government as a whole. I’ve yet to meet one Californian upset over the moves to keep our state clean.

Trump, on the other hand, has never shown one iota of understanding or interest in a healthy world. In his one campaign trip to California, in May 2016, he told a crowd in Fresno that the seemingly eternal drought was not, in fact, an issue of limited water. In fact, he said, “there is no drought.”

Trump ridiculed Brown’s environmental concerns, then said that, if elected, he would be “opening up the water” – a jarringly stupid thing to say. Two years later, no water has been “opened up.” His promises to reverse the drought (“That’s an easy one,” he said) are unmet. Nothing new there.

The problem with Trump and California, however, isn’t a lack of comprehension. It’s a lack of basic empathy.

Journalists meet a lot of people. In 24 years in the business, I’ve met an endless number who left me at a loss. Ballplayers who went out of their way to not sign autographs. Low-energy break dancers, death-obsessed stunt men, marathon runners who enjoyed nothing more than a long drag from a Marlboro.

What I’d never seen – until this inexplicable time – is a leader who simply seems not to care about the general welfare of his country.

A president, no less.

Dating back to his early expressions of science skepticism, as well as his dismissal of climate change as “a Chinese hoax,” Trump has never shown any concern about soaring temperatures, rising oceans, increasingly unbreathable air.

He shows no understanding of the science, and merely brushes it aside. He shows no interest in the well-being of the planet and the creatures on it. Everything he cares about – absolutely everything – comes back to himself: his ego, his power, his money, his worshipers in their red MAGA caps. If he does something that infringes on the health needs of millions, or crushes regulations that actually help nature, well, too bad.

According to Reuters, federal agencies will try to justify the changes by claiming they “will reduce traffic fatalities, making it cheaper for drivers to replace older, less-safe cars, while paring sticker prices for new vehicles even if motorists have to buy more gasoline.”

Fortunately, California is fighting back. Our attorney general, Xavier Becerra, issued a statement yesterday promising to “use every legal tool at our disposal to protect the current vehicle emission standards.”

Will he succeed? I’m not sure.

All I know is my daughter and son were born with clean and healthy lungs. I’d like to keep them that way.