Arnold Schwarzenegger: Environmentalists are behind the times. And need to catch up fast.

Source: By Arnold Schwarzenegger, USAToday • Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2023

We can no longer accept years of environmental review, thousand-page reports, and lawsuit after lawsuit keeping us from building clean energy projects.

This is an edited version of a speech former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered Tuesday at the Austrian World Summit.

People ask me why I’m always smiling at environmental events. When I look back at the past 20 years and see how far we’ve come in California, how could I not smile?

A few weeks ago, I plugged in a huge solar roof on a 180,000 square foot warehouse at the port in Los Angeles. It was made possible by California’s million solar roofs initiative. While I was there, I visited the startups inside that warehouse and saw the future: robots, clean cement, sustainable seafood, and companies making power from algae and waves.

I can’t stop myself from smiling when I see all of the progress toward a green future. And I have to laugh, because 20 years ago, when I ran for governor, environmentalists didn’t really buy in when I said I’d be a green governor. “The conservative who drives Hummers and blows up everything in his movies? Give us a break. Just another empty campaign promise.”

I wasn’t offended by it. I understood it. I was a newcomer. I was an outsider. I knew that my administration would have to do the work to prove the naysayers wrong, and over the next seven years, that’s exactly what we did. A million solar roofs. Our historic plan to reduce pollution by 25%. Stronger tailpipe emissions standards. A renewable portfolio standard to replace coal and gas with wind and solar.

As we accomplished all of that and more, environmentalists stopped looking at me with suspicion and started hugging me, using my movie lines and inviting me to speak at clean energy summits all over the world about the California model. There is an important lesson here. I want you to remember to keep the doors of our environmental movement open to the newcomers, the outsiders and the newly converted.

Focus on health dangers of air pollution

Outsiders always bring a fresh set of eyes to our mission. When I got involved, one of the first things I saw was that our marketing wasn’t working. We were talking about climate change when we should have been talking about pollution and the 7 million people who die every year choking on air poisoned by fossil fuels.

I still feel like a newcomer today. I still see everything with fresh eyes.

Today, when I look at our environmental movement with those fresh eyes, I see a dire need. We need a new environmentalism based on building and growing and common sense. Old environmentalism was afraid of growth. It hated building. Many of you know this style − protesting every new development, chaining yourself to construction equipment, and using lawsuits and permitting to slow everything down.

I have to be honest: I don’t blame the old environmentalists. Back then, growth meant more fossil fuels, more pollution, more death. But times have changed, and we have to change with them.

Trust me, you don’t want to be the old, out-of-touch boomer asking for someone’s beeper number or looking for a VCR to watch movies.

Failure is possible if environmental movement doesn’t change

It’s time for our environmental movement to wake up to the new reality and to change and adapt. Growth doesn’t have to be powered by fossil fuels any longer. Solar and wind now cost less than coal power. New electric car models are coming out regularly. Our progress is moving so quickly that it is hard to imagine how we could ever fail. But I want to be clear: we can fail, and if we do, it won’t be a failure of innovation.

It will be a failure of not growing and adapting with the times, not listening to the people, and not using the tools at our disposal.

It will be a failure to build. We can no longer allow red tape to hold our green revolution back.

We can no longer accept years of environmental review, thousand-page reports, and lawsuit after lawsuit keeping us from building. I want to be clear: I’m not just talking about building new highways or infrastructure. I’m talking about environmental projects!

Throughout the United States and Europe, thousands of clean energy projects sit waiting to be built. Delayed by bureaucracy. Delayed by permits. Delayed by old transmission lines. Delayed, delayed, delayed. In Europe, solar projects face wait times of up to four years. Wind projects can take up to 10 years.

Germany just hosted an environmental summit where they called for a deadline to end the fossil fuel age. At the same time, they closed their nuclear plants to replace them with gas, and dismantled a wind farm to make room for more coal.

Is this a joke? In the United States, we have more than 2,000 gigawatts of almost completely clean energy projects waiting in line. Just to give you an idea of how much power that is, the entire current United States electric grid capacity is 1,250 gigawatts.

We all agree that we are facing an emergency. Let me ask you a question: if you went to the hospital for a heart attack, and they told you they might save you after waiting a few days, what would you say? I know none of you would put up with it.

So why are we putting up with these delays in our pollution emergency?

That’s why today I call for a new environmentalism, based on building the clean energy projects we need as fast as we can. We have to build, build, build.

Recent reforms from the European Union to fast track many of these projects give me great hope. I am proud of all of you, and I hope that my American friends are paying attention.

The White House and Congress are now talking about reform. Good. Keep talking. Get it done. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of progress. All over the world, we have to keep reforming the system to work faster. We have to stay on top of this. People are dying.

That’s why, today, I call on every government around the world to clear the path for green projects, start the building and terminate pollution.

I call on my environmentalist friends to move past the old ways and to embrace a new environmentalism based on clean energy growth.

I call for change. Change is never easy, but this is an emergency, and this emergency demands action.

Lives depend on it.

One of California’s most famous companies, Facebook, had an equally famous motto: Move fast and break things. Let the slogan for our new environmentalism be: Move fast and build things. Build a clean and abundant energy future.

Build better. Build cleaner. Build now. Build, build, build. We can do it. We have the power.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California from 2003 to 2011.