Jerry Brown Made Climate Change His Issue. Now, He’s Not Sure How Much Politicians Can Do.

SAN FRANCISCO — It was a big act, one of the last in the final days of a long political career, and it was about one of his life’s passions: safeguarding the environment.

Jerry Brown, 80, the four-term governor of California who is to retire in January, was the principal organizer and reluctant star of the Global Climate Action Summit, a high-octane gathering of lawmakers, executives and scientists working to beat back global warming.

But even as he sought to rally other politicians to the cause, Governor Brown’s conference underscored the limits of what politicians can do to avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change — even the politician who leads California, the wealthiest state in the country and the world’s fifth-largest economy.

“We can spread it, encourage it. I’ll try to do that,” he said in an interview in his office in the State Capitol in Sacramento. “But at the end of the day, this takes a conversion. It’s almost a quasi-religious transformation that has not occurred but must occur. Or the world will pay a very heavy price in life and economic detriment.”

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