Two years ago today, the United States joined nearly every country in the world to make the largest commitment in history to act on climate.
As someone who worked to get Barack Obama elected president and then worked for him in the State Department (as an ambassador), I felt so proud of the bold step in the right direction. The Paris Climate Agreement was a step towards hope, towards the kind of change I believe in.
You know what happened next.
Donald Trump became President and immediately set about undoing this progress. His administration scrubbed mentions of climate change from government websites, undermined or transferred scientists and public servants who worked to fight climate change, proposed massive cuts to government programs to curb emissions and tied the hands of the enforcement division at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Worst of all, Trump walked away from the Paris Climate Agreement, and directed Scott Pruitt, the polluter-friendly official whom he put in charge of the EPA, to unwind President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
Climate change threatens to significantly increase the number of people killed by disease..."
He didn’t do these things because we’d solved the problem. 2017 has seen an almost apocalyptic amount of damage to U.S. communities from climate-fueled natural disasters, from Puerto Rico, to Florida, to Texas, to the Midwest, to California and in many other places. Climate change threatens to significantly increase the number of people killed by disease, and the Pentagon rates climate-fueled mass migration and the fight over resources as one of our top national security threats.
Donald Trump doesn’t agree that this threat is worth any effort. Polluters donated heavily to his campaign, and he believes that global warming is a Chinese hoax. He also doesn’t see climate as an issue that will cost him significant support or lead to popular opposition.
He’s well aware that climate change doesn’t get a lot of attention in the press or in our national politics.
This is the part where you come in.
We have seen, this year, the extraordinary power of average citizens organizing to make a difference. The March for Women heralded a year in which women’s empowerment has been a national conversation. National organizing and opposition led the way to defeating attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And in my state of Virginia, an overwhelming amount of energy led to victories at the ballot box for people opposed to what Donald Trump stands for.
One of the first results of that energy in Virginia was the state’s announcement that it would move to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a significant step up in the state’s effort to curb emissions.
It joined the fight alongside states, municipalities, and businesses across the country ― groups which account for more than half of spending power in the country. State and local governments, like businesses, will respond to public pressure, and this is an area where climate activism ― calls, letters, emails and yes, even social media posts ― can make a difference.
This is particularly true locally, where governments and businesses are likely to be most responsive. You can make it clear that you favor green policies and intend to support candidates and businesses which do likewise and achieve real change in your community.
As long as Trump is president and the Congress is under control of people who refuse to act on climate, federal initiatives will be difficult to achieve... but that doesn’t mean no one in Washington cares.
Over 50 House Democrats have come together to form the Safe Climate Caucus, which California’s Alan Lowenthal and I co-chair, to push Congress to act on climate.
I’m also a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, an effort to form dialogue with Republicans and seek agreement where we can find it on climate solutions. The numbers of Republicans in Congress willing to work with us has risen sharply this year.
Reading headlines about rising sea levels and constant record-breaking temperatures is frightening, but it’s important that we never forget that we have the power to act. Thanks in large part to efforts of the Obama Administration, the US economy is rapidly adopting clean energy, which is now one of the fastest-growing jobs sectors in the country.
Trump has been awful for the country when it comes to climate action, but with hard work we can still show the world that the United States will lead on climate.
Don Beyer represents Northern Virginia in Congress and serves as the Vice Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology