Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2008

Arnold Schwarzenegger

There's something about Arnold Schwarzenegger's 21st century green crusade that recalls Samuel Johnson's 18th century crack about women preaching and dogs walking on their hind legs; the point is not whether it's done well, but that it's done at all. The Austrian bodybuilder turned Hollywood action hero turned California Governor was always an unlikely eco-freak, with his five Hummers and his conspicuous delight in conspicuous consumption. But after five years of pushing his state, his Republican Party and his adopted country to fight global warming, it's clear that this is something the Governator does very well.

While President Bush has sat out climate change, denying the problem in his first term and avoiding it in his second, Schwarzenegger has signed agreements with Canada, Mexico and the United Nations encouraging cooperation on clean technology, while pushing greenhouse-gas reductions at home. He has enacted the first statewide cap on carbon emissions, the first statewide green building code and the first statewide fuel-efficiency standards. Bush has blocked his proposed tailpipe-emissions cuts, but Schwarzenegger has sued, and 19 states will follow California's lead if he wins.

Schwarzenegger was always a genius as a promoter — of bodybuilding, of his blockbusters and of himself. Now he's a global salesman for the war on carbon, spreading the message that you don't have to be a girly-man to help save the planet. He ridicules traditional environmentalists as prohibitionist scolds who want us to drive wimpy cars and live like monks; he's selling a future of a clean environment and a booming green-tech economy with all the gizmos anyone could want. "Guilt doesn't work," he told TIME last year. He's had one Hummer tricked out to run on biofuels, and another on hydrogen. He won't apologize for living large.

This you-can-have-it-all message has not always endeared him to greens of longer standing. They believe Americans must adjust their lifestyles to reduce emissions, not only by installing solar panels in their mansions and driving electric cars but by living in smaller houses and — California blasphemy! — driving less. They grouse that Schwarzenegger acquired his green tint through political necessity in a green state with a Democratic-controlled legislature. They say he just commands more press because he's a political celebrity.

But so what? If Al Gore is America's most powerful voice for green living, Schwarzenegger is its most powerful Republican voice. When Republicans were ridiculing Barack Obama for urging Americans to inflate their tires, Schwarzenegger was appearing at an event exhorting Americans to do just that. And when Bush called for meetings to secure commitments from China and India before the U.S. agreed to reduce emissions, Schwarzenegger replied: Enough meetings. Enough waiting for someone else to lead. "Leadership," he told TIME, "means action." And these times call for an action hero.