MANHATTAN (CN) – Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations early Wednesday morning, Washington Governor Jay Inslee brought a message more rousing than the coffee: The Earth is rapidly becoming uninhabitable, and only a concerted national effort to prioritize averting climate catastrophe can save it.
“I’m going to talk about a full mobilization of the United States that intends to save us from the demon of the climate crisis,” Inslee said.
Billing himself as the climate candidate, Inslee chose the pre-eminent think-tank as his first stop in New York to get precise on foreign policy. The governor told an invited crew of the economic, political and diplomatic elite that they must begin by re-envisioning what is at stake.
“We need to expand our powers of the imagination in saving us from this problem,” Inslee said, citing David Wallace-Wells’ book “The Uninhabitable Earth.”
Preventing that fate, the governor emphasized, is not simply a question of management.
“I believe that defeating climate change must become the organizing principle,” Inslee said. “I’m convinced that if it’s not Job 1, it won’t get done.”
Quoting Winston Churchill, Inslee added later: “Without victory, there is no survival.”
“It is the only option,” he continued.
Wednesday’s event expanded upon the governor’s ambitious proposal from a little more than a month ago: to put the nation 100% on clean energy by 2030, a category that — unlike renewable energy — includes nuclear power.
That is not his own deadline, Inslee said. It is the planet’s.
“You can negotiate with your spouse on occasion, but you can’t negotiate with the laws of physics,” Inslee quipped.
President Donald Trump’s denial of climate change had been a consistent theme of his speech. Though Trump announced his intention to pull the country out of the Paris agreement, the president does not have the power to follow through on that threat until after the 2020 presidential elections.
For Inslee, honoring the country’s Paris commitments is a start, but the governor added that the treaty is “frankly woefully inadequate to the science.”
Domestically, Trump has sabotaged scientific inquiry into the climate crisis and replaced them with conspiracy theories. His appointee to a U.S. climate change panel, William Happer, once compared “the demonization of carbon dioxide” to “the Jews under Hitler.”
Ridiculing one of Trump’s urban legends, Inslee quipped: “Wind turbines do not cause cancer; they cause jobs.”
The governor had some barbs for his fellow Democrats as well.
During a question-and-answer session, NBC correspondent Cynthia McFadden noted that Inslee skewered former Vice President Joe Biden’s as lacking in ambition and teeth.
“Do you want to elaborate on that?” McFadden asked.
“No, that was pretty good,” Inslee replied, to laughter in the room.
Inslee made sure to rattle off other aspects of his resume. He called himself the first government to oppose the Muslim travel ban and a leader in $15-an-hour minimum wage and paid family leave.
Roughly a month has passed since Inslee signed a suite of climate-related bills, including one aiming for total carbon neutrality by 2030 and complete reliance upon clean energy by 2045.
Though state lawmakers passed the legislation in April, Inslee has been governor for more than half a decade, and greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise in his state since that time.
Inslee blamed the numbers on Washington’s recovery from the recession slump.
“The recession reduced economic activity, which reduced burning fossil fuels,” Inslee said at an April 8 press conference. “Now we’ve had a huge economic boom in our state, which has brought in hundreds of thousands of people with their cars since the recession. Consequently, there has been some increase in carbon dioxide gases associated with a huge, booming economy.”
It is an ironic defense: Inslee asserts that his climate plan will be a boon to the nation’s economy by injecting it with a massive jobs program, and he has no shortage of conservative critics willing to seize upon those economic fears to delay the action that he prescribes.
To their jibes, Inslee touts his state’s record.
“What has the best economy in the United States?” Inslee asked rhetorically today. “The state of Washington.”
The Vancouver-based infographics firm Visual Capitalist reported just that last year, putting the state’s southern neighbor California at second. Inslee points to these states’ records as proof that green-minded governments reap economic rewards.
Parrying a question about how he can square his ambitious climate plan with the nation’s soaring national debt, Inslee threw the query back at the guest.
“How are you going to afford Paradise, California, burning to the ground?” the governor asked.
Somewhere on the other side of the pond, Trump prepared a visit to a property bearing the brunt of rising sea levels: his own golf course in Doonbeg, Ireland, which the Washington Post reported has been losing money and petitioned authorities to erect a seawall to prevent erosion from the Atlantic Ocean.