If there is one thing that President Clinton taught us, it’s that you shouldn’t judge a politician by the actions of his dick alone. This is certainly true of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently split with his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, and who admitted yesterday to fathering a child with a household staffer ten years ago. Schwarzenegger, of course, has long admitted that he has trouble controlling his manly urges – during his first campaign for governor of California, when he was accused of groping women in the past, he frankly admitted that in the past he had “behaved badly at times” – so this is hardly a case of the preacher revealed as sodomite. But Americans love morality plays, and so poor Arnold is going to be talk-showed to death in the next 48 hours.
So if we’re going to get all moral about Arnold, how about adding this to the mix: when it came to advancing the cause of clean energy and climate change awareness during his eight years as governor of California, Schwarzeneger made every other politician – including President Obama – look like a girly-man. Schwarzenegger made energy and climate issues his number one priority during his eight years in office, and although he didn’t kow-tow to environmental dogma, he also never flinched from a fight with Big Oil and Big Coal. More important, he was the one politician in America who most clearly understood that dealing with climate change is the greatest challenge we face as a civilization. And he had no patience for anti-scientific morons and Tea Bagger denialsim. During a recent talk, Schwarzenegger compared the current debate on whether or not humans are causing global climate change to the old debate about the merits of bodybuilding: “People literally believed that bodybuilding would make you musclebound, stupid, narcissistic, and gay.”
Among Schwarzenegger’s accomplishments, two stand out:
He advocated for and signed the Global Warming Solutions Act (known to energy wonks as A.B. 32), a pioneering legislation which will establish the largest carbon trading market in the United States. The act, which will go into effect next year (legal challenges could delay it), will limit greenhouse gas pollution to 1990 levels by 2020 (a 25 percent reduction statewide) and establish a “cap and trade” market for greenhouse gas pollution. If it is successfully implemented, California’s new carbon regime will channel billions of dollars of investment into clean energy technologies and destroy the myth that taking strong action on climate change will wreck our economy.
He battled against automakers and Bush Administration to allow California to adopt tougher vehicle emissions standards than the federal government; the fight eventually help push President Obama to raise federal efficiency standards for vehicles to a national average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 (an increase of about 10 mpg above the 2009 vehicle average). This single rule change will do more to curb America’s thirst for oil than any legislation in recent history, and it wouldn’t have happened without Schwarzenegger’s advocacy.
Until the story about his out-of-wedlock child broke yesterday, Schwarzenegger seemed preparing himself for a new, high-profile role in the energy and climate fight, perhaps as the head of a think tank or advocacy group. Now, who knows? The script now requires an suitable interval for penance. It pisses me off that Schwarzengger’s personal life is getting in the way of his larger, and far more important, public mission. But that’s the way things go in America. It’s so much easier to gossip about Arnold’s sins than face our own – like the fact that we are cooking the planet with fossil fuels.
To see Schwarzenegger in top form, watch this talk he gave last month at the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E research center: