US actor, filmmaker and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers a speech during the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, Poland, on December 03, 2018. (AFP/Janek Skarzynski)
Governments must protect citizens from the killer effects of climate change, movie tough guy-turned-statesman Arnold Schwarzenegger told AFP, insisting the United States was committed to a greener future despite Donald Trump reneging on the Paris agreement.
In an interview on the sidelines of a UN climate summit in Poland this week, the Terminator actor and three-time Mr. Universe winner said he was on an "environmental crusade" and urged everyone to join in the climate fight.
Schwarzenegger added a sprinkle of stardust to Monday's opening session of COP24 climate talks in Poland, where nations must agree on a rulebook to limit global temperature rises and the devastating economic and health impacts global warming will bring.
"I think governments' responsibility is to protect people. That's why we have armies to avoid an attack. Well here is the biggest attack," he told AFP.
"Seven million people die every year because of (air) pollution, 25,000 of them die alone in America. If we don't want to fight that then there is something wrong with us."
In his two terms as California governor between 2003-2011, Schwarzenegger helped shape America's richest state into a green powerhouse.
He signed legislation giving local and state officials the tools to bring down greenhouse gas emissions by reducing urban sprawl and promoting renewable energy and green technology.
The 71-year-old said the US was committed to act on climate change regardless of President Trump's controversial decision to take the richest country in the world out of the Paris accord.
"Just because Donald Trump dropped out of the Paris agreement it doesn't mean that America dropped out," he said.
"All of our states that were always environmentally friendly are still going in the same direction. All of our cities in America are going in the same direction, they are still in the Paris agreement.
"People are investing in green technology. It's a booming industry and people should understand that we all have to work together. America is in and our crazy leader is not, so be it."
'Protect economy, protect environment'
During his presidential campaign Trump promised to protect the nation's coal workers and even reopen mines that had been mothballed.
The COP summit is being held in the Polish mining city of Katowice, and the Polish government is pushing for a "just transition" that gradually reduces coal usage while protecting the miners whose livelihoods depend on it.
Schwarzenegger said the idea that fossil fuel-dependent economies would suffer as they transition to renewables was a fallacy.
"Green technology creates a huge amount of jobs and the reality is that we don't have to choose between one and the other. You can protect the environment and protect the economy at the same time," he said.
The Advanced Energy Economy Institute said California employed more than half a million people in green energy in 2016 -- several times the amount of US coal workers nationally.
Schwarzenegger, who converted his prized Hummer truck to run on electric, said California's prosperity showed environmental and economic success were intrinsically linked.
"We have the number-one economy in the United States and we have the strictest environmental laws so you can do both," he said.
"Protect the economy and protect the environment."
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