WASHINGTON — In his first State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump made no mention of climate change, a global crisis that his predecessor Barack Obama considered the greatest threat to future generations. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) didn’t mention it either in his party’s rebuttal.
But a day later, the issue of global warming and Trump’s denial about the threat it poses took center stage in Washington, D.C.
Inside a crowded auditorium at George Washington University, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined several hundred climate activists in calling for cities and states across the country to quickly move toward renewable energy. The senator had harsh words for the president, and a biting critique of Trump’s recent moves to scale back federal action to tackle climate change.
“Donald Trump spoke last night for over an hour. He talked about many things, but somehow he forgot to mention the words climate change. What an outrage,” Sanders said before continuing: “We should not be surprised, because Donald Trump ― one of the great scientists of our time ― has determined, after years and years of exhaustive study, that climate change is a hoax brought to us from China.”
The “Climate State of the Union” was hosted by 350.org and served as the launch of the organization’s “Fossil Free U.S.,” a campaign to combat Trump’s climate agenda at the local level. By weaning the country off fossil fuels, environmentalists hope to stave off the worse effects of climate change.
“Tonight is all about figuring out how to go around Washington,” 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben told HuffPost in an interview ahead of the event. “I know we can’t just spin our wheels for four years waiting for Donald Trump to try and figure out if physics is real.”
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, an activist and president of the Hip Hop Caucus, said the goal is to “reinvigorate” and “broaden” the movement.
“We’re bringing forth the message that the climate resistance is real,” Yearwood told HuffPost. “We’re bringing forth the message that the front-line communities, indigenous communities and communities of color, can lead on this fight.”
The event highlighted cities’ efforts on that front, including New York City’s lawsuit against five major oil companies over infrastructure damage caused by climate change. The city also wants to divest roughly $5 billion in the city’s five pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.
In a recording that aired during Wednesday’s event, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said city officials were inspired by people like those in the room, adding that it’s time for fossil fuel companies to pay for the damage they’ve done.
“Big oil may think they are living in Trump’s America,” de Blasio said. “They are wrong. They are living in your America.”
In its bullish push for “energy dominance,” the Trump administration has abandoned the previous administration’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It has gutted environmental regulations and declared victory in ending a perceived “war” that it accuses the Obama administration of waging on fossil fuels. And Trump — who famously called climate change a Chinese hoax — has stacked his Cabinet with industry lobbyists and like-minded climate change skeptics.
In his speech Tuesday, Trump spoke of the extreme weather disasters in 2017 that killed more than 300 people and caused a record $306 billion in damages — “We endured floods and fires and storms,” he said — but failed to link them to climate change. And he boasted, as he often does, that he had “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”
McKibben said it is baffling to watch Trump desperately try to prop up “an 18th-century technology.”
“I think when historians look back on Trump’s State of the Union address 10, 20, 30 years from now, it’s possible that the most glaring thing will be what wasn’t there: no mention of the biggest problem that the world is facing,” he said.
Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has said that he and Trump “don’t pick winners and losers,” but rather favor “an all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes oil, gas, coal and renewable energies.”
Meanwhile, the administration has moved to open nearly all U.S. waters, including huge swaths of the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, to oil exploration. And just hours before Wednesday’s climate event in D.C., The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration will ask Congress to cut funding for renewable energy research by a whopping 72 percent.
“If someone had set out to sabotage our future, they couldn’t be doing it more effectively than this,” McKibben told HuffPost.
This story has been updated with a statement from Bill de Blasio.