SAN FRANCISCO — Living up to his “Governor Moonbeam” nickname from the 1970s, California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday announced the state of California plans to launch its own satellite to study climate change.
“The climate threat still keeps growing. We want to know what the hell is going on, all over the world, all the time,” said Brown. “So we are going to launch our own satellite, our own damn satellite to figure out where the pollution is and how we’re going to end it.”
Brown’s announcement capped the end of a climate summit in San Francisco, where government and business leaders from around the world pledged a series of initiatives to combat climate change despite the Trump administration’s resistance.
Brown’s staff said that the state will work with Planet Labs, a San Francisco company that builds miniature satellites, to construct and launch the technology. Trevor Hammond, a spokesman for Planet Labs, said Friday the satellite could be ready for launch in about three years.
The idea, said Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, is to track emissions of methane and other potent heat-trapping gases, from oil fields and other specific locations.
Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko gave Brown the nickname “Governor Moonbeam” in 1976 during his first term as governor, because of his idealistic plans, including talk of the state launching its own satellites.
And four decades later, at the twilight of Brown’s final term, the state will work in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit group that announced plans in April to launch its own satellite by 2021 to track broad-scale methane trends.
Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, said the satellite will cost “in the eight figures” meaning tens of millions of dollars.
“Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” said Krupp, who noted it can be measured with spectrometers from satellites that can produce color images showing where plumes of pollution are.
By seeing where such pollution is originating, regular people can hold companies that own oil fields or industrial facilities accountable, Krupp added.
“By making the invisible visible,” he said, “citizens can participate in their own democracy.”
Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, said no state money has been committed to the project yet. With Brown leaving office in January, the project will need the approval of his successor to continue.
Earlier in the day at the climate summit, as Hurricane Florence pounded Carolina beaches and parts of California continue to burn, former Vice President Al Gore said that many of the natural disasters affecting the world this year have been made worse by climate change, but it isn’t too late to limit its effects.
“Every night on the television news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation,” Gore told the gathering at the Moscone Center. “We’ve got to connect the dots between the cause and the effect.”
Gore noted that Hurricane Florence and Super Typhoon Mangkhut, which hammered the Philippines with 125 mph winds Friday, are both occurring at the same time. Scientists say warming ocean water makes such storms stronger.
Recent droughts in the American Southwest, Korea and Africa, along with California’s enormous 2018 wildfires, and tropical diseases that are heading north, are all real-time climate change events, Gore added.
“We are using the sky as an open sewer. This is literally insane,” Gore said.
The 10 hottest years since modern temperature records began in 1880 all have happened since 1998, according to NASA and NOAA.
Business leaders have played a significant role at the event, which was spearheaded by California Gov. Jerry Brown as a way to generate agreements between cities, states, companies and others to reduce greenhouse gases.
During the summit, Kaiser Permanente announced it will become climate-neutral by 2020 by purchasing 180 megawatts of electricity from solar, wind and other sources for its 27 hospitals. And Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff committed to using 100 percent renewable energy for his company by 2022.
Meanwhile Friday, 12 cities — including Honolulu, Oslo, Oxford, Rotterdam, Santa Monica, Seoul, Tokyo and Warsaw — with more than 140 million residents, pledged to buy only zero-emission buses after 2025. They joined 14 others who have already signed the agreement: Paris, London, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Quito, Vancouver, Cape Town, Seattle, Mexico City, Auckland, Milan, Rome and Heidelberg.
Politics were front and center all week. Many participants slammed President Trump for denying the scientific consensus that the world is warming and for working to expand coal production and roll back federal rules on vehicle gas mileage and factory emissions.
“We are living in a very strange world where logic does not have the impact it used to have,” said former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the Paris Climate agreement in 2015. He urged people take their passion on the environment into the November elections.
“There is nothing like massive defeat on a political issue to stiffen the spine of the survivors,” Kerry said.
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