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Schwarzenegger’s Energy Plan

  • Posted 01.20.09
  • NOVA

In this wide-ranging interview from 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lays out his optimistic plan for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in California—an agenda he hopes will have worldwide repercussions.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed forward an agenda that many Republican leaders in his state resisted. "I had to fight against my own party," he says. "I didn't care." Enlarge Photo credit: © Michael Maloney/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis

At 20, he conquered the world of bodybuilding and claimed the title of Mr. Universe. In his 30s and 40s, he mastered Hollywood, transforming himself into the quintessential action hero. And in 2003, at the age of 56, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the 38th Governor of California. Schwarzenegger is a man who savors big challenges and relishes contradictions. He's a Republican environmentalist who drives a Hummer fueled by vegetable oil. His boldest move yet may be championing California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The legislation, also known as AB 32, aims to substantially cut the state's greenhouse-gas emissions and to promote the use of renewable energy. NOVA's Larry Klein spoke to Schwarzenegger about what motivated him to take on global warming.

Leaping forward

NOVA: California has pushed ahead with the most aggressive greenhouse-gas policies in the nation. What made you think you had the experience, the wherewithal, to do this?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: I didn't have much experience when it comes to the environmental movement, but I had good advisors. And in my heart, I had the passion to do something for the environment. I think this is the most important foundation. Do you have something in you that says, "I've got to contribute, and now I'm in a position as governor to do something big"?

I want to move forward in a very aggressive way because I know that California, even though it's a little tiny spot on the globe, the power of influence that we have over the rest of the world is the equivalent of a whole continent.

If it was in bodybuilding promotion, if it was in movie promotion, or with our Planet Hollywood, whatever we did, it was always global. So I knew that we should not just look at it as this little place, but what power we have to push the country and the whole world forward.

I had to fight against my own party. I didn't care. I said, "We are gonna march forward." I told the people when I ran for governor, "We're gonna protect the economy and the environment simultaneously. No one will have to sacrifice here." They didn't believe it. I came into office, and we started to prove that we can do it.

"Government has screwed up so many times that people don't trust government anymore."

Do we have to act aggressively on global warming?

Here's the bottom line. We know that there is global warming—climate change—and we know that we are creating it. The most respected scientists have made that clear. By the thousands, scientists have made that clear.

So now let's figure out how to roll back the greenhouse-gas emissions. How do we go back, let's say, to the 1990 level? European countries have done that. They have shown great leadership with the Kyoto treaty and so on. Why don't we try to do it?

So we started thinking about that. And then I put the stake in. Before we really knew how to do it 100 percent, we put the stake in and said, "That's what it's gonna be."

In my career, I've always felt that it is better to put the stake down and in before you even know how to do [something]. I did not know how to become Mr. Universe and become the greatest bodybuilder when I was 15, but I said, "That's what I'm gonna be." Boom! I put the stake in, and then I figured it out.

So we said we are gonna roll back our greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent, roll it back to the 1990 level, and then an additional 80 percent by the year 2050.

Then comes the tough work of figuring out how to do it, right?

We have all the smart people around. Let's figure out how to measure [the emissions]. Let's study it. Let's work together with the think tanks, with the universities, with the scientists.

I'm a big believer in measurement. If you want to lose 30 pounds, you first have to step on a scale and say, "I weigh 240 pounds, so therefore I want to be 210. Let's measure that every day. What progress are we making?" It's the same thing with this.

How much emissions are there for each of the industries? We have to figure that out. Then, how do we go gently to those industries and say, "We want you to start making changes"? We have to understand what is possible. How much do they rely on a change of technology? Because I always say that technology will save the environment. Nothing else.

We can talk about big airplanes and big cars and big this and big that. This is all interim talk. In the end, you can fly as big a plane as you want, as long as the engine doesn't emit greenhouse gases. That's what it's about. Doesn't matter what the size is. Let's figure out the new technology.

"We are seeing how green, clean technology is where the action is."

But we don't yet have all the technology we need.

Of course. Also, maybe this equipment owner who emits a lot of greenhouse gases, he buys his equipment for 30 years and it costs him a million dollars, so he cannot go in two years from now to buy a new one. So we have to be sensitive. That's why I said "gently."

We have to be very careful so that we don't harm industries, but we move forward in an aggressive way so that they meet the goal by the year 2020. That's what the bottom line is. We have all been working on that—the Air Resources Board, the EPA, everyone has been working on that.

The naysayers

Skeptics say that AB 32 will hurt the state's economy—that it will raise energy prices, that businesses will start leaving the state. Even some of your Chamber of Commerce people say that. How do you respond?

It is quite normal that people are scared of the unknown, and they are suspicious. I totally understand, because they're dealing with government.

Government has screwed up so many times that people don't trust government anymore. They [politicians] say one thing, and they do something else. And sometimes people in government have no experience of what it takes to run a business. Every single day they make decisions here in this building [the California State House] that, if you would go and sign all the bills, they would destroy our economy.

So it's totally understandable that businesses say, "Oh my God, we don't even know what that means. They don't even know what it means. Other states have never done this." All of those things.

That is why it is so good to have a Republican governor sitting here. I don't go and get political about Democrats or Republicans. But in this particular case, it's good. Because they say, "Well, at least there is a Republican sitting there who understands about business. He has been a businessman himself. He has made millions of dollars. He has been successful in his career. He understands that we need to be protected."

I am their protector. They see that every year I look at the job-killing bills and I veto them, one after the next. And they say to themselves, "Oh, if Schwarzen-Schnitzel is saying that, we can maybe be a little bit supportive."

Can your new policies actually spur economic growth?

The Wall Street Journal said that we are experiencing a new gold rush in California because of venture capital coming in. There are companies exploding all over the state of California, developing all this technology for cars to reduce carbon emissions, solar, all kinds of technologies. We are seeing how green, clean technology is where the action is, and that it is actually going to support our economy.

What about the fear that fees on carbon emissions, say those that hit oil refineries, will be passed on to consumers?

That's why we believe in cap-and-trade. If one company has to pay a fee because they did not meet our cap, well, let them try to pass it on to the consumers. Because another company that makes the cap, they can reduce their prices and attract customers. They [polluters] will find out very quickly that you shouldn't pass it on to the consumer. What you should do is get your act together.

I know it is something new, and I know that European countries have been struggling with it. But you always struggle when you're a pioneer. And we are all working together to figure it out. As a matter of fact, my big inspiration was Tony Blair. When he came over here, we had long conversations about cap-and-trade. He became my mentor.

"America has really never gone through hardship, so America doesn't know how to conserve."

There's a saying, "Pioneers get the arrows. Settlers get the land." By being a pioneer, aren't you likely to make mistakes?

You should never ever be afraid of failure. The more afraid you are of failure, the less you will ever push yourself. If I worried about failing to lift 500 pounds, then I would never be able to break a record. Never.

The way world records are broken is having no fear of failure. You try it. You may fail. The next competition, you go back and you try it again. This has happened to me many, many times. I have failed so many times in lifting. But then eventually, I always made it. I made that weight. Then I said, "Okay, now I'm gonna go for the next 25 pounds." And that's the way I approach life.

There were so many things, when I came into this state, that we had to do. I always had the guts to do it. Because what's the worst thing that can happen? You fail. So what? You got to be able to go in there and dig and push and push and push. That's what I learned in weightlifting. That's what I learned in acting. Pushing yourself all the time, that's how you get there.

Solar, wind, and nuclear

Critics say the state's mandates for renewables—getting 20 percent of your electricity from renewables like wind and solar by 2010, 33 percent by 2020—are too aggressive.

First of all, let me tell you something. We can reach our goal on renewables by the year 2010 easily. I love these goals of 20 percent by the year 2010.

The only thing is, we have environmentalists who love these goals but who say, "Well, yes, we would love you to build solar plants in the Mojave Desert and all of those places where there's a lot of sunshine. But when it comes to building the transmission lines to get it on the grid, no. Because that could harm a squirrel that we have never seen in this area, but it could appear in this area. We want to hold off a little bit. Or, for every square mile of solar panels that you build, we want you to buy three square miles of land in case the squirrel appears down the line.

So it's this crazy stuff. You have environmental regulations holding up environmental progress. That's what we are suffering under right now. That's what we have to comb through. Because we have the technology, and we have companies from all over the world—from Japan, and from Canada, and from Germany, and from China, all over—that want to build solar plants in California.

It takes more work to bring the environmentalists to the table and make them realize that it is counterproductive. But we can easily reach those goals. And we can reach 33 percent by the year 2020. We can do all of this, and I think we should.

How do you assure people, "We'll have the energy you need"?

I work very closely with the energy companies and with the distributors of energy, which is the important thing. And we are inspiring the energy companies to build more plants. We are also inspiring them to have in their portfolios 20 percent renewables.

Southern California Edison, for instance, because of a conversation we had, made a deal with large owners of warehouses. Now imagine, for the first time in history, a warehouse owner can lease the top of their roof and have solar panels built on top.

What about nuclear power?

I want people to look at nuclear power. Nuclear power was "villainized" for a reason. We had waste that we didn't know what to do with, and other problems. But the technology in the last several decades has improved. In France, they're now using the waste to power the plant.

So I think we can revisit it. I'm not saying build it, because I'm not running the state by myself. I'm saying, "Let us all look at it again with an open mind." We may then say, "It's not worth it. There's new technology. Let's just move on, beyond nuclear." Great.

Let's look at everything, because we always need energy. We also need to explain to people that conservation is where a lot of the action is.

American excess

Why do you think Americans waste so much energy?

America has really never gone through hardship, so America doesn't know how to conserve, like in Europe. I grew up after the Second World War [in Austria], and every single time I walked out of a room, my mother would smack me on the hand if I did not switch off the light.

We grew up using very little water, very little food. Everything was little, little, little, to conserve. So I grew up with this mentality.

So now, naturally, in my home, when my kids are taking a shower that is longer than five minutes, I go crazy. I sneak in and turn off the water, or turn on the cold water so that it makes them jump and run out of the shower. I want them to know that it is irresponsible to take a shower that's longer than five minutes, or not to turn off the light, or not to turn off the stereo when you walk out of the room.

I explain to them, "The delivery of water takes energy." A huge percentage of our energy goes into delivering water from northern California to southern California. I explain to my kids, "That takes power, and what you're doing is just wasting power." So it's education, also.

"I don't think that the rest of the country has time to wait and see if we are successful."

What about cars versus mass transit?

Well, we have to slowly change. When I came to this country 40 years ago, this state was celebrating its freeways—forget about mass transit. You have your car, and you decide where to go because it is a free-way. It's totally free. And we're gonna build the extra lanes, and the this and the that—underpasses and overpasses, tunnels and bridges, on-ramps and off-ramps.

Pat Brown was the infrastructure king, the governor in the '60s who built and built and built. He was fantastic. But now things are changing. We see that cars are the big polluters. Let's use a little bit more mass transit. Let's use high-speed rail.

We don't have that yet in California, but we want to build it. And let's use more buses, because most of the buses are now low carbon emitters. It's really terrific. But we've got to reeducate people and slowly move them to rely on mass transit, in a direction where Europe has been forever.

No time to hesitate

In our show, we've framed this thing as a gamble—California's big energy gamble. You talked about not fearing failure. But what if California doesn't reach its goals, say, by 2020? I worry that the rest of the country won't follow along.

I don't think that the rest of the country has time to wait and see if we are successful. This country has no more time.

There are now almost 800 mayors who have joined the Kyoto treaty and are doing their own things. We are forming great partnerships with other states in the West and in the Northeast and in the South, and with Canadian provinces, and with European nations.

And I think the next administration will be getting with it. All three candidates [Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain] are all good with the environment. [At the time of this interview, all three were still vying for the presidency.] They're all gonna push the agenda forward to make this national, to put the cap-and-trade system together and to set an energy policy for the next 10, 15, 20 years. So I think the country will follow.

Second of all, I have no problem if someone tells me in 2020, "You know something, Governor? We are noticing that it will take another three years to get there." So be it. I'll take that any time.

One thing you know for sure: You can never reach a goal if you don't set one. Because remember, you can have the most sophisticated ship in the world, but if the captain doesn't know where to go, he will be drifting around and will never end up anywhere. We've always got to know where to go and what the specific goal is. Shoot for it without the fear that you could fail. That is the bottom line.

Interview of Arnold Schwarzenegger conducted on April 23, 2008 by Larry Klein, producer of "The Big Energy Gamble," and edited by Susan K. Lewis, senior editor of NOVA Online

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