Donald Trump tried to pull the rug from under climate action by pulling out of the Paris accord. But it looks more and more like Trump’s move may have the opposite effect, giving the global climate movement what it most lacked — a clear enemy.
Climate change is the wickedest of collective action problems. Invisible heat-trapping gases with delayed, widespread impacts for which we are all somewhat responsible.
Even the most successful moments of climate action — like the Paris accord — have fallen a very long way short of the massive mobilization so obviously required.
But Donald Trump’s bombastic, error-ridden withdrawal may have finally given the world the rallying point it needed. The New York Daily News front page screamed: “Trump to World: Drop Dead.”
And the world has responded with a middle finger of its own. National leaders openly called out the U.S. president and recommitted themselves to cutting climate pollution.
China and European countries seemed almost gleeful at the economic opportunities Trump left on the table in abandoning the race to clean energy. French President Emmanuel Macron cheekily trolled Trump, calling for a global effort to “Make our Planet Great Again.”
Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna declared herself “deeply disappointed.” And, in an odd turn of diplomatic phrasing, Justin Trudeau bemoaned the Paris decision by “the United States federal government.”
It’s an important distinction. While the federal government may be ditching climate action, much of the rest of the country is positively emboldened. Moments after Trump declared that he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," the mayor of Pittsburgh signed an executive order committing the city to the climate accord. Mayor Peduto archly noted that his city "has been rebuilding its economy based on hopes for our people and our future, not on outdated fantasies about our past."
Mayors and governors from across the United States turned the night lights green on city halls and legislatures. In fact, if the U.S. states that have recommitted themselves to Paris were to form their own country, it would rank twelfth in world population and fifth for largest economy.
As a reader of National Observer, you know that Canada’s big city mayors were as defiant as their American counterparts.
And even oil-rich Alberta, home to the world's third largest reserves of crude oil after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, joined the rebellion against Trump as Premier Rachel Notley proudly announced the Canadian province was also going to light up its legislature in green to support global climate leaders.
Business titans were remarkably bold. The CEO of Goldman Sachs joined twitter so he could decry the pull-out on Trump’s favorite platform. Other business chieftains from GE to Disney to Microsoft joined the chorus.
Today's decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.'s leadership position in the world. #ParisAgreement— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) June 1, 2017
Elon Musk announced that he was bailing out of U.S. Presidential Councils in protest. Within hours, over half-a-million people liked his tweet. By contrast, President Trump's Paris tweet managed a comparatively paltry 92,000.
Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 1, 2017
It’s increasingly clear that the jobs and economy of the future will be created in clean energy and sustainable economies. The ruckus about Paris caused millions to learn that Arby’s employs more people in the United States than that darling of Trumpian economics, the coal industry. The booming solar industry already employs three times as many.
Investigative journalism to keep climate in the spotlight
It was a real relief to see climate change leading the news for a change. The Donald has given us that much already. And it was truly encouraging how much of the media covered the seismic economic shifts underway. News anchors and reporters underscored the precipitous drop in prices for batteries, solar and wind power. Pundits wondered aloud whether the Earth’s great automobile nation would be left sputtering as electric vehicles take over.
So maybe, just maybe, all this can stick and Donald Trump will have given us the catalytic enemy we lacked. But you and I still have a lot of work to do. We’ll need to keep investigating efforts by big oil to obfuscate and delay. We’ll need to keep publishing up-to-date reports on climate solutions and climate impacts. We’ll need to keep our governments’ feet to the fire as they enact policies and laws to reduce climate pollution.
National Observer will continue to ask tough questions of industries and governments that stand in the way of progress. From the past few days, you can find out which corporate sponsors were cheering on Brad Wall's attack on carbon pricing; how the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is trying to stop the National Energy Board's Energy East pipeline review from considering climate change; and what Canada needs to be doing to meet promises made at Paris.
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