Jerry Brown, like most of humankind, is a mixture of positive and negative tendencies, and sometimes they run together.

The governor is a very smart man with a remarkable and admirable ability to soak up information and synthesize it into political policy, but sometimes it morphs into an air of intellectual and moral superiority and apparent disdain for lesser beings.

That priggishness has been very evident on his extensive tour of Europe this month, preaching – there is no other word – the gospel of climate change and warning the world that it must obey his commandments or face eternal environmental damnation.

Fittingly, the syndrome was most evident during his stop at the Vatican, seat of the religion for which he once yearned to proselytize as a Jesuit priest – before changing his mind and following his father into politics.

“The problem … is us,” Brown said in decrying what he sees as a lack of urgency on curbing greenhouse gases. “It’s our whole way of life. It’s our comfort … It’s the greed. It’s the indulgence. It’s the pattern. And it’s the inertia.”

“At the highest circles,” he added, “people still don’t get it. It’s not just a light rinse (that’s needed). We need a total, I might say, ‘brain washing.’

“We need to wash our brains out and see a very different kind of world.”

When they exhibit that sort of self-righteousness, politicians risk being revealed as hypocrites, and that’s doubly true in Brown’s case.

First of all, he has a personal “carbon footprint” that’s probably greater than 90 percent of Californians and 99 percent of the globe’s population.

As the governor of California, he travels with an entourage that usually includes several carbon dioxide-emitting vehicles. He travels frequently around the state, nation and world by carbon-spewing jet aircraft – often, including on his hops around Europe, by private plane, which is even more polluting on a per capita basis.

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As Brown was departing to Europe, eventually to speak to a global conference on climate change in Bonn, prize-winning journalist Jack Miles published an article in the Washington Post, pointing out that “nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel. Cancel a couple long flights, and you can halve your carbon footprint. Schedule a couple, and you can double or triple it.”

Brown has certainly scheduled more than a couple of flights, and he’ll encourage more carbon-heavy travel next year when, as one of his last acts as governor, he stages another global climate change conference in San Francisco.

Secondly, as he and other California politicians often brag, the state is reducing its carbon footprint to one of the lower levels in the developed world, from 14 metric tons per person per year to a projected 10 tons by 2030. But climate change scientists believe that it must go much lower, at least to 3 tons and perhaps as low as 1.5 tons, by 2050 if climate change is to be arrested.

To put it another way, Californians would need to reduce their carbon emissions to the per person level of India’s masses.

If Brown is intellectually honest, and not content to merely jet around the world preaching the gospel, he will lay out what reducing Californians’ emissions to that level will mean in changed lifestyles and economic cost, propose legislation to reach it and spend the political capital necessary to make it law.

Otherwise, his words are just so much hot jet plane exhaust.

CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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