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12/08/2016 11:01 am ET

What You Can Do Right Now To Stop Donald Trump's Dangerous Climate Agenda

It's never been more important to speak up and get involved.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Donald Trump's presidency could be very bad for the planet, but you can do something about it.

We don’t know much about what climate policy might look like under President-elect Donald Trump, but what we do know isn’t very encouraging. Trump has called global warming a hoax and vowed to reinvigorate the fossil fuel industry, “cancel” the Paris Climate Agreement and ditch the Clean Power Plan. 

Former Vice President Al Gore warned in October that electing Trump could “take us toward a climate catastrophe.” And then Gore met with Trump and his daughter Ivanka this week ― a conversation Gore called “extremely interesting” ― raising the prospects that the president-elect might not be as hostile to climate change as he has indicated.

He has since announced Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has criticized environmental regulations and defended fossil fuel interests, as his pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

But people who are concerned about climate change shouldn’t lose hope just because the incoming president is wishy-washy on the issue. “Remember, most of the world is aligned against climate change even if the future occupant of the White House doesn’t want to recognize reality,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told The Huffington Post.

As 2 degrees Celsius looms ever closer ― the temperature increase scientists say the world must stay below to avoid the worst effects of climate change ― there is a lot that individuals, institutions, cities and states can, and must, do to battle climate change over the next four years.

“As consumers, as investors, in schools, in workplaces, at churches, synagogues or other places of worship, there are lots of positive ways to impact change for the climate,” Brune said. “We’re going to have to give the president-elect the fight of his life.” 

Here are some things you and your community can do:

  • 1 Strengthen city, county and state climate efforts
    Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
    If the federal government refuses to stand up against climate change, it’ll be more important than ever for cities, counties and states to pick up the slack and become climate leaders. That means committing to divest from fossil fuels, embrace clean energy, set emissions targets and develop climate action plans, among other measures.

    “The ominous signals coming out of D.C. point to even more work needed at the city and state level,” said Kate Kiely, national media deputy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. In November, the NRDC announced partnerships with 20 cities across the country from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Houston, Texas, to make strides in renewable energy.

    According to Brune, cities could have an especially big influence in the climate change fight. “We should be pushing cities to go 100 percent clean energy and to reject natural gas and coal and other fossil fuels,” he said. “A majority of people now live in cities, so this could have a dramatic impact.”

    In the U.S., 20 cities have already made commitments to rely completely on clean energy.

    “People should organize and get their own cities to move forward,” Brune said. 

    Contact your mayor, city council, or county or state representative and get them to set a timeline to stop using fossil fuels.
  • 2 Push companies and institutions to divest from fossil fuels
    Bloomberg via Getty Images
    There are a lot of things that the president can’t undo. He can’t stop the fact that solar and wind are cheaper than coal and gas. He can’t change the fact that dozens of businesses have already committed to clean energy,” Brune said.

    As of December, more than 640 institutions worldwide, including several universities, churches and for-profit companies and banks, have pledged to divest from their fossil fuel investments. According to Go Fossil Free, a 350.org campaign, the commitments amount to more than $3.4 trillion.

    Consumers should petition companies to ditch their fossil fuel investments, and students should urge their schools and colleges to do the same.

    “As we wrap up the hottest year in history, we know that investments in the fossil fuel industry fund these climate impacts. That’s why it’s more critical than ever that we push our institutions to divest from the fossil fuel companies that are knowingly perpetuating the climate crisis,” Lindsay Meiman, U.S. communications coordinator for 350.org, told HuffPost last week.

    Want to push a company, school or place of worship to divest from fossil fuels? 350.org has a list of resources to help you start a campaign. Or find an existing one to get involved in.
  • 3 Put your money where your mouth is
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
    Petitions and protests can be powerful, but moving your money speaks volumes too. As a consumer and as an investor, ensure you're not personally financing climate change. This means, for example, choosing banks that are free of fossil fuel connections. 

    “Your ATM card or checking account or your mortgage, these should not be financed by companies that are taking your checking fees or other payments to subsidize the Dakota Access Pipeline or finance drilling offshore. Make sure your money aligns with your values,” Brune said.

    In September, Amalgamated Bank became the first North American bank to commit to divest 100 percent from fossil fuels. Aspiration has bank accounts that are fossil fuel-free, and Beneficial State Bank has credit cards that don’t invest in fossil fuels.

    Anthony Hobley, CEO of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, said consumers should also ensure that their pensions, 401(k) or other retirement savings accounts are similarly not underwriting fossil fuel companies.

    “A lot of pressure can be made through the financial industry,” Hobley said from London. “Ordinary people who hold pensions can put pressure on companies through their pensions. Put pressure on the people who manage your money and that’s one way to keep pressure on those companies too.”

    The financial services companies that manage retirement accounts “aren’t used to getting many letters from the people whose money they manage,” Hobley added. “It wouldn’t take much of an organized effort for them to take notice.”

    Are your investments supporting fossil fuels? FossilFreeFunds.org is a web tool that allows people to check whether their individual investments or employer-provided 401(k) is supporting coal companies, oil and gas producers, and fossil-fired utilities.
  • 4 Making a "financial case" for clean energy
    Aaron Bernstein/Reuters
    Hobley believes the “best chance” we have of convincing Trump to care about climate change is to make a compelling “financial case” for renewables.

    With new clean energy technologies getting more efficient and cheaper than fossil fuels, a transition to renewables is “inevitable,” said Hobley. It’s just a matter of time.

    “Trump can no more stop this transition than a previous U.S. president could’ve stopped the transition from steam locomotives to the automobile or the typewriter to the computer. The technological genie is already out of the bag,” he said. “It’s not a case of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ But the ‘when’ is important because of the 2 degrees budget, and that’s where a lack of political leadership or resistance can have a real impact.”

    Clear political leadership from both the U.S. and China could mean a "smoother" and faster transition to clean energy. A lack thereof, however, could “make it easier for big oil and gas companies to stay in denial” — and that “would be to their detriment,” Hobley said. “It would mean pouring more money, billions or trillions of dollars, into fossil fuel assets that we simply don’t need.”

    Trump now has the opportunity to make the United States a leader in clean energy.

    “These are complicated and highly technical products,” Hobley said. “With an educated and skilled workforce, these are the kinds of things that should be manufactured in the U.S.”  

    Creating new jobs was a central part of Trump’s election platform. Maybe someone should remind him that the clean energy industry creates more jobs per unit of energy than coal and natural gas. Last year, the number of U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those in oil and natural gas extraction for the very first time.

    A 2015 report by NextGen Climate America found that a transition to clean energy would add a million jobs by 2030 and up to 2 million jobs by 2050, while increasing the nation's gross domestic product by $290 billion and boosting household income.

    We should be citing such figures and urging utility companies and public utility commissions to embrace clean energy. (Public utility commissions regularly hold hearings that are open to the public. Attend them, and voice your thoughts!)
  • 5 Speak out!
    Pacific Press/Getty Images
    What’s the single biggest way you can influence climate change? According to the NRDC, it’s speaking up.

    “Talk to your friends and family, and make sure your representatives are making good decisions,” Aliya Haq, deputy director of NRDC’s Clean Power Plan Initiative, wrote in a blog post. “The main reason elected officials do anything difficult is because their constituents make them.”  

    In the coming months and years, “there will be mass mobilizations that folks should join to push back against Trump’s regressive policies and hateful rhetoric,” said 350.org’s Meiman. “Folks can engage online by joining online actions, signing petitions and contributing their voice on social media to push back on Trump’s agenda.”

    You can also participate in protests in your area or join and support local nonprofits in their fight against climate change.
  • 6 Reduce your own carbon footprint
    Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images
    Power your own home with renewable energy, invest in energy-efficient appliances and lightbulbs, and remember to weatherize. 

    “Building heating and cooling are among the biggest uses of energy,” said NRDC’s Haq. Make your home more energy-efficient by sealing drafts and ensuring your home is adequately insulated and ventilated too.

    Also consider changing your diet. “Cut down on meat consumption or even eliminate it from your diet completely,” Brune said. “I do think that people can have a powerful impact on the environment just by eating less meat.”  

    It takes 14 times as much biologically productive land to produce 1 ton of beef as it takes to produce 1 ton of grain, according to the Global Footprint Network.

    Global livestock is also responsible for 9 percent of all anthropogenic carbon emissions, data from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization show.

    Driving a fuel-efficient vehicle is another way to reduce your carbon footprint. You can also take steps to be more fuel efficient when you're on the road, no matter what car you drive.
  • 7 Support environmental journalism
    Jewel Samad/Getty Images
    A major shortcoming of journalists during the presidential election was their failure to highlight climate change as a vital topic ― and to force Trump (and Hillary Clinton, too) to address this crisis. 

    Over the next four years, Trump needs to be held accountable, and the press must make climate change a central issue in his presidency. 

    The Society of Environmental Journalists, a nonprofit membership organization supporting environmental journalists in the U.S. and around the world, aims to “improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of reporting on the environment.” You can also support nonprofit environmental news outlets such as Inside Climate, Grist and High Country News.
Hannah McKay/Reuters
A man wearing a Trump mask protests during a demonstration against climate change outside the U.S. Embassy in London in November.

There is certainly reason to worry about what a Trump presidency could mean for the planet. 

But as Gore reminds us, worrying isn’t doing the Earth any favors. There is no time to despair,” Gore told The Guardian on Monday. “We don’t have time to lick our wounds, to hope for a different election outcome.”

In homes, at schools, in cities and in states across the country, people need to act ― and act now.

“We have to win this struggle and we will win it; the only question is how fast we win,” Gore said. “But more damage is baked into the climate system every day, so it’s a race against time.”

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