Trumpeting his state’s push to combat the effects of climate change, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger triumphantly proclaimed that the environmental movement has shed its unpopular public image in a speech Wednesday in Gaston Hall.
For too long, Schwarzenegger said, the American people had viewed environmentalists as “Prohibitionists at the fraternity party” – fanatics attempting to sway public opinion using tactics that relied on guilt.
“Guilt is passive, guilt is inhibiting,” Schwarzenegger said. “Successful movements are built on passion.”
Now, a majority of the public supports the goals of the environmental movement, Schwarzenegger said. The former bodybuilder and Hollywood megastar did not hold back the metaphors to describe the movement’s reemergence. He likened it to disco, which took off in popularity after the release of the film “Saturday Night Fever,” and to bodybuilding, which years ago had “a very sketchy image.”
The governor touted his work with lawmakers from both parties in California to address environmental concerns. Legislation passed recently in California aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the state by 25 percent before 2020.
Schwarzenegger delivered his remarks at a conference on the environment that Georgetown co-sponsored with Newsweek. Schwarzenegger was featured on the cover of the magazine’s most recent issue for his work on behalf of the environment, marking a significant turnaround for Schwarzenegger, who was dogged by environmental protesters during his first run for governor in 2003.
“Three and a half years later I am on the cover of Newsweek as one of the big environmentalists,” he said. “Only in America.”
Schwarzenegger said that growing public acceptance of environmentalism has challenged previously accepted notions about the movement. Capitalism and the free market, often portrayed as at odds with environmental goals, have helped to advance the cause.
He cited the example of hybrid cars, which he expects to grow in popularity. Although hybrid cars are too expensive for most American consumers, he said, increased demand will eventually make them more affordable.
Schwarzenegger told the audience that he will appear on an episode of the MTV program “Pimp My Ride,” to air on Earth Day, and soup up one of his cars with an 800-horsepower engine that runs on biofuel and emits 50 percent less greenhouse gases than a standard vehicle.
He added that even his Hummers, long a sore spot among his environmentalist detractors, have gone green: One runs on biofuel and another on hydrogen.
But mostly, Schwarzenegger said, the environmental movement’s success will stem from “mainstream momentum” in public opinion, as scientists, CEOs and the public have come to describe global warming as a threat. He mentioned as an example the positive response to former vice president Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won the Academy Award this year for best documentary.
“I feel things tipping,” Schwarzenegger said. “I feel things moving forward.”
The governor, who won a second term last year by a wide margin, issued a warning to politicians who did not seize the importance of the environmental movement and continued to deny the effects of global warming.
“You will become a political penguin on a smaller and smaller ice float that is drifting out to sea. Good bye, my friend,” he said to raucous applause.
The conference was sponsored by the School of Foreign Service’s Program in Science, Technology and International Affairs, the Georgetown University Center on the Environment, and Newsweek.