California governor Jerry Brown told a Vatican conference on Saturday that President Donald Trump does not reflect the views of most Americans when it comes to climate change.
The Democratic leader also said the Trump presidency is “creating a situation of reductio ad absurdum” in American public life.
“By that, I mean you take something too far, its absurdity becomes evident, and then people pull back,” Brown said.
“President Trump has said climate change is a hoax, and it’s not just a hoax, it’s a Chinese hoax. It’s a lie within a lie,” he said.
The governor was speaking at a conference on climate change and health sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
Brown said the majority of Americans are in line with the Paris climate agreement, which was signed by the Obama administration in December 2015.
The international accord set the goal of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Pope Francis released his ecological encyclical Laudato Si’ ahead of the Paris meeting with the express purpose of influencing the debate, and the Vatican’s put its full diplomatic weight behind the agreement.
Trump announced the U.S. would leave the agreement at the beginning of this summer.
At the time, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, said the decision to withdraw from the agreement was a “slap in the face” to the Vatican.
The California governor told the meeting the American people are never just the government.
“People even talk about the government as being somewhat distant, but I can tell you the people, in the majority, are very much in support of serious climate actions, in following the Paris accords, we are going to get there,” Brown said.
“In many respects, if you try to measure what has been President Trump’s positive contribution, I would have to say his attempted withdrawal from Paris actually has put the matter much more in the forefront of the American people. It is now more salient because of the contrast between what he is saying what the laws of America provide, what other states are doing,” he said.
“The Trump factor is very small. Very small indeed,” Brown said, drawing applause, including from Sánchez Sorondo, who was at Brown’s side during his address.
“That’s nothing to cheer about,” Brown responded.
“Because if it was only Trump that was our problem we’d have it solved. But that’s not the only problem,” he said, explaining the real problem “is us.”
“It’s our whole way of life. It’s our comfort. It’s the greed. It’s the indulgence. It’s the pattern. It is the inertia,” Brown explained. “That’s what the transformative solutions have to be right alongside of and informing all of the technical points and the political agreements that we make.”
The 79-year-old governor said he knows about transformation because of his life in a Jesuit seminary in the 1950s.
“We spoke Latin, we were told we were on the path of perfection. We meditated. We underwent self-discipline. We mortified ourselves. We tried real hard,” Brown said. “I can tell you, I did not achieve perfection. I was not transformed. In fact, some of my bad habits, which I will not reveal, are the same today as when I entered the Jesuit seminary when Pius XII was pope!”
Brown said religious leaders must be involved in the fight against climate change, in order “to move aside the huge rock of indifference, complacency and inertia.”
Brown was not the only Democratic politician invited to address the Vatican meeting.
California congressman Scott Peters also attacked the Trump administration for its climate policy.
Peters called on the Vatican to try and change “not just the minds, but the hearts” of Americans, adding that Catholics make up a third of all the self-identified Christians in the U.S. Congress.
“The Vatican’s leadership is critical,” he said.
One other U.S. elected official was a speaker at the event – Kevin de León, President pro tempore of the California State Senate. He is also a Democrat.
Since the election of Francis, Sánchez Sorondo – who also serves as the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences – has not been afraid to risk appearing partisan when hosting events on the environment and other controversial topics.
In 2016, he drew criticism for inviting U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders to the Vatican in April 2016, during his campaign against Hilary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The meeting took place just ahead of the New York primary – where it is estimated a third of the voters were Catholic – raising accusations that it created an appearance that the Vatican was interfering in a U.S. political campaign.