Last week’s disappointing decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement caused quite a stir around the world. News outlets were quick to point out how this insensible action is not only hurting America but the planet as well. All the important world leaders, besides Putin, condemned the decision and reiterated their commitment to uphold the Paris Agreement which is a non-binding, non-partisan, once in a lifetime framework aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and averting a collision course with 2°C of warming. Basically, Trump has positioned the nation against the rest of the world.
Things aren’t all that bad, though. The world will carry on just fine. China will likely take the reins and position itself as the next political and diplomatic climate champion. Countries like India or the EU-block seem to be on an unabated path to fulfilling their climate pledges. And even in the United States, things aren’t really all that gloomy. That’s because Trump isn’t a demigod which can control everything in this country, despite what he might care to believe. Citizens and businesses can and visibly do choose to act according to their own policies which benefit the environment. This can mean anything from a private homeowner deciding to switch to solar to a big corporation like Apple or Google meeting all of their energy demand from 100% renewable sources. It can also mean state and municipal-level policy because the federal arm is only so long.
“Mayors understand that it is a false choice … that you either can care about the environment and climate action, or prosperity and growing your local economies,” said Sam Adams, a former mayor of Portland, Oregon, and U.S. director of the World Resources Institute.
Mayors united against demagoguery for a better environment
Case in point, hundreds of governors and mayors have pledged to stand by the Paris Agreement values and objectives despite what the White House says or does. On the 1st of June, the day of Trump’s announcement, there were only 61 members in the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda or Climate Mayors — a network of U.S. mayors aimed at strengthening local efforts for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Only a couple of days later, the tally numbered 257, “representing over 59 million Americans in red states and blue states .” That’s quite the backlash!
The list also includes New York Mayor Bill de Blasio who signed an executive order which would see the city “commit to the principles enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement.” The LA mayor did the same, as did Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto. This latter executive order is important because it’s essentially a slap in the face for Trump and his hole-riddled, shameful June 1 speech. On that fateful day, Trump said:
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” adding a bit later that “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.; along with many many other locations in our country, before Paris, France.”
Well, now you know what a person who was actually elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh would have done in Trump’s place.
“For decades Pittsburgh has been rebuilding its economy based on hopes for our people and our future, not on outdated fantasies about our past,” Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto said in a statement. “The City and its many partners will continue to do the same, despite the President’s imprudent announcements yesterday.”
“We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks.”
“The world cannot wait — and neither will we.”
That’s a powerful message indeed, built around the wishes of their constituents rather than the vested interests of a gang of billionaires. This message was echoed by other town halls around the world, from Washington DC to Sydney. To show their support, hundreds of town halls were lit in green.
Why coordinated municipal action could be key to tackling climate change
After President Trump’s announcement, it’s becoming clearer that more action from behalf of private and non-state actors is required. Thus, it’s inspiring to hear about so many big companies working on their own to meet the Paris Agreement goals. But cities shouldn’t be overlooked — they’re incredibly important. A recent study found that if all cities of 100,000 people or more cut their emissions in half by 2030 after peaking in 2020, the world would achieve 40% of the emissions reductions. That’s enough to keep global temperature from rising over 1.5 degrees Celsius.