Can conservative Schwarzenegger flip the script on US climate debate?

The former governor of California urges Americans to stop bickering about whether fossil fuels have contributed to climate change. Instead, he says, the US should transition to clean energy because it makes economic sense.

Michel Euler/AP
Former US California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (l.) meets French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, north of Paris, Tuesday. The United Nations secretary-general called for a clean energy revolution to avoid a 'climate catastrophe' as talks on a global warming pact entered their final week.

While in Paris this week to attend the global climate summit, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a bold message about climate change: it doesn't matter which side of the climate debate you're on, it is time to act on the issue.

"I couldn’t care less if you're concerned about temperatures rising or melting glaciers,” the former Governator wrote in an open letter on Facebook. “It doesn't matter to me which of us is right about the science. I just hope that you'll join me in opening [the door], to a smarter, cleaner, healthier, more profitable energy future.”

During a talk at SciencesPo, a Paris-based research university, he acknowledged that such comments may seem unusual coming from a “conservative, Hummer-driving” former politician.

"It has nothing to do with my political affiliation or with my ideology," the Austrian bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned politician said. "It has simply to do with where I was born ... the environment was absolutely everything to us."

Independent assessments agree with Mr. Schwarzenegger’s argument that because fossil fuels will eventually run out, it is wise to start investing in and transitioning to renewable energy sources.

“Society will eventually adopt renewable energy, since fossil fuels are limited in supply and only created over geologic time. Thus the question is not whether society will shift to renewable energy, but when,” David Timmons, assistant professor of environmental economics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, wrote in a 2014 report.

As governor of California, Schwarzenegger oversaw California’s transition to sourcing 33 percent of its energy from renewables like solar power by the year 2020, and the passage of bills aimed at reducing California’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

While in Paris, Schwarzenegger also endorsed eating less meat as an additional step towards helping the planet breathe a little easier. Meat-producers like cows are a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions.

"People will buy in to stop eating meat one or two days a week – you have to start slowly. It's a very big challenge but it doesn't mean it shouldn't be done,” he told the BBC.

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