President Trump is a man on a mission, or, perhaps better yet, a man on a rampage to reverse President Barack Obama’s climate legacy and his substantial achievements in confronting the global threat of climate change.
Unfortunately, that rampage is running smack-dab into the reality that climate change is real and unforgiving. Last week’s report by the World Meteorological Organization noted that the world is experiencing record warming, with the past three years being the hottest recorded, rising carbon-dioxide levels, an alarming drop in Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, and severe droughts in southern and eastern Africa and Central America.
As the report warned, the planet is now in truly uncharted territory.
Trump’s reaction to the mounting evidence? Ignorance that is not only willful but destructive.
Since taking office, Trump has taken steps to eliminate limits on carbon pollution and increase America’s dependence on foreign oil, including by moving to weaken vehicle efficiency standards and import more Canadian tar-sands crude oil . His proposed budget decimates scientific research, he selected an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who denies climate science, and he has just signed a broad executive order that will dismantle environmental protections and cost taxpayers more than $40 billion. Compounding these outrages, he has directed the government to implement an accounting system that would exaggerate the benefits and discount the costs of his actions.
Make no mistake, the Trump administration’s rampage against the environment presents an existential threat to the entire planet. But we cannot give up hope that we can still avert the most severe aspects of climate change.
Winning the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes was not enough for Hillary Clinton to win the White House, but those votes nonetheless reflect the voices of a majority of Americans. Public-opinion research consistently finds that most Americans believe climate change is a major problem and support steps to cut carbon pollution.
What’s more, a study found that the counties that voted for Clinton and progressive leadership in November generate nearly two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. This is significant because moderate and progressive leaders at the local and state levels can, as a result, guide two-thirds of the U.S. economy into a clean-energy transformation.
We are already seeing this in states such as California and New York, which are establishing themselves as global climate leaders. Mayors from both red and blue states, meanwhile, are continuing to move aggressively to build clean-energy economies and deliver climate solutions.
Thanks to this leadership and innovation and entrepreneurship in the private sector, America’s clean-energy economy is strong enough to withstand a short-term change in policy. The Obama administration’s focus on emissions reductions and clean energy will not be easily reversed. U.S. net imports of foreign oil fell by more than 50 percent from 2008 to 2016, emissions declined to their lowest level since 1992, and the economy continued to grow.
As much as Trump might try to ignore it, this shift toward clean energy is a global one. More than 130 countries have now officially joined the Paris agreement — a historic pact to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution and build resilience against the destructive effects of climate change. Rather than reverse course in the wake of the U.S. election, these countries have reaffirmed their commitment to the agreement; since the election, more than 30 additional countries have officially joined the pact. The path set by Trump not only is squandering U.S. prestige but also will cede American leadership on clean energy to other major powers, most notably China.
As Americans, we need to do all we can to stop the Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress from implementing the most anti-environmental agenda in decades. The engagement and direct action being taken by individuals in every community in every state is nothing short of inspiring. Resistance works.
But the political power that can make the biggest difference resides with the governors, mayors and other elected officials who can pick up the climate-change mantle abandoned by the Trump administration and help the United States lead by example. Working together, these leaders can serve as a powerful counterbalance to the lack of climate policy ambition that the Trump administration is demonstrating at the national and international levels.
To be sure, there will be setbacks in the months ahead. The fossil-fuel industries will get their share of handouts from the White House. But there are still plenty of open paths toward a clean-energy future. It is up to all of us to blaze those trails on behalf of our children and grandchildren.
Opinion by John Podesta
The writer who was the chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, served as counselor to President Barack Obama, where his duties included overseeing climate and energy policy, and chief of staff to Bill Clinton.
The opinion originally appeared on 28th March in the Washington Post.