California is regarded as the most environmentally-aware US state, with its Republican governor signing into law last year a target calling for emissions to be reduced by 25 per cent by the end of the next decade.
"We have to make it mainstream. We have to make it sexy. We have to make it attractive so that everyone wants to participate," Mr Schwarzenegger said of the green movement.
Speaking at Georgetown University, Mr Schwarzenegger drew comparisons between the environmental movement and bodybuilding, which he described as "another passion of mine".
"Bodybuilding used to have a very sketchy image. As a matter of fact, so much so that some people that worked out seriously and pumped weights didn't admit they were doing bodybuilding.
"But we changed that, we consciously changed that. And then all of a sudden, everyone wanted to exercise. It became mainstream, it became sexy, attractive," the governor continued.
"And this is exactly what has to happen with the environmental movement. Like bodybuilders, environmentalists were thought of as kind of weird and fanatics also."
Claiming that "for too long the environmental movement has been powered by guilt", Mr Schwarzenegger predicted that it would become powered by "something much more positive, much more dynamic, something much more capable of bringing about major change".
"So the new environmental movement is not about guilt, it's not about fringe, and it's not about being overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem, but it is about mainstream momentum, exactly what I talked about earlier with bodybuilding," he said.
"Politics plays a big part in the tipping point here. If you are against taking action on greenhouse gases and common emissions your political base will melt away as surely as the polar icecaps, I can guarantee you that. You will become a political penguin on a smaller and smaller ice floe that is drifting out to sea.
"Goodbye, my little friend. That's what is going to happen," Mr Schwarzenegger concluded.
California has a population of almost 34 million and if treated separately its economy would count among the top ten in the world.
Last year UK prime minister Tony Blair signed a pact pledging to combat greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.
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