Don't Cheer Up

06/03/2017 05:59 pm ET Updated Jun 04, 2017
istockphoto/robertiez

On Thursday, President Trump announced he will withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. If that makes you mad, good. If that makes you outraged and disgusted, even better. We have good reason. Even for a president whose administration has quickly earned a reputation for reckless and morally bankrupt policies, this appalling decision stands out, and the reaction both here and abroad has been withering.

For the rest of the planet, the message is clear: Donald Trump has zero interest in being the “leader of the free world,” much less in international cooperation to solve global problems. In the dark and self-destructive world view of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, the U.S. has no allies—only competitors. We don’t win unless other nations lose. That isn’t foreign policy; it’s Lord of the Flies.

For those of us who do care about our planet’s future, what happened Thursday should be a movement-defining moment. “Hold tight to your anger/And don’t fall to your fears,” is how Bruce Springsteen put it in his song “Wrecking Ball.” Trump’s action is unforgivable, but it should only make us more determined to protect our future.

The most important thing to remember is that although Trump can try to slow climate progress in the U.S., he is powerless to stop it. It’s true that the anti-environmental ambitions of his administration have exceeded almost everyone’s worst expectations. Equally extraordinary, though, are his administration’s astounding incompetence and obstinate refusal to accept reality—and I don’t just mean the reality of climate change. I mean the reality of 21st century America.

Every day, more U.S. cities, states, and corporations are committing to reducing carbon emissions and adopting clean, renewable energy. Just before Trump’s announcement, three additional coal plants came offline, including the two biggest ones remaining in New Jersey. Yesterday, more retirements were announced in Missouri, along with a massive investment in new locally sourced wind power. This announcement was followed by the largest purchase of electric school buses in history, in Southern California.

Want more? Just hours after Trump claimed he represents “Pittsburgh, not Paris” in his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Mayor Bill Peduto announced his support for a goal of powering Pittsburgh entirely with clean and renewable energy by 2035. And he’s not alone. The city of Portland, Oregon, officially committed to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy on Thursday night. Dozens of cities have committed to 100 percent clean energy, and more than 60 U.S. mayors have pledged their support for a community-wide clean-energy transition

At the state level, climate leadership is nothing new, but Trump’s actions have given it new urgency and significance. The governors of California, New York, and Washington have already announced plans for a coalition of states committed to upholding the emissions reduction goals of the Paris agreement.

Trump’s withdrawal also provoked a response from corporate America, which correctly sees climate disruption as a serious economic threat. As the Washington Post reported, “one corporate titan after another tweeted their disappointment at the announcement, companies issued statements committing to action on climate change and two high-profile members of Trump's business advisory council said they would leave the forum in response.”

Meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $15 million contribution to help fund the operations budget of the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change coordinates the Paris pact. "Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris agreement by leading from the bottom up,” he said. “And there isn't anything Washington can do to stop us."  

So, yes, progress on achieving our emissions reduction goals will continue. In fact, progress may actually be faster as a result of Trump’s decision—because we all just got a big bucket of ice water dumped over our heads. For the next four years, it’s up to us to provide the leadership that Donald Trump won’t.

We need to do one more thing, too. Hold tight to our anger. This year, we can elect governors in Virginia and New Jersey and state legislators across the country who will stand up to the Trump agenda. Next year, we can elect a Congress that will not only stand up to Donald Trump but push back against his regressive policies. And in 2020, we can elect a president who puts the U.S. back on track by rejoining both the Paris Agreement and the international community. Let’s keep organizing, now. 

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