Editor’s note: This post was updated on June 1, 2018
Just as the federal government was accelerating national climate action, Donald Trump took the wheel in 2017, determined to slam the car into reverse. But despite his best efforts over the past 16 months to kill United States climate policies, there’s still enormous momentum propelling us forward.
What’s going on? Call it Climate Independence Day.
First, we can thank our Founding Fathers for a system of governance that gives fierce independence and real power and to our 50 states. Second, we can thank visionary leaders – from both parties – at the state and local level, who are using that power to chart their own course.
That’s why, even though the federal government under Trump has begun pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, a vast majority of Americans, 70 percent, live in places that have proclaimed, “We Are Still In.”
It’s why more than 550 legislators pledged meaningful climate action in 45 states last year, more than 300 mayors promised to make their cities run 100 percent on renewables by 2035, and one state after another is now setting clean energy goals that far exceed anything we’ve seen before.
Will this groundswell of state and local action help the U.S meet its Paris targets? Perhaps not.
But it will keep us moving until climate realism returns to Washington – and it shows that far from throwing in the towel, America is stepping up and fighting back to protect policies that safeguard public health, our climate and our planet.
Why city and state actions actually matter
Let’s be clear: There’s no substitute for federal action on climate. We need to set national goals and to work with other countries to bring down emissions. It may not happen under Trump, but Trump is not forever.
In the meantime, city and state initiatives – along with measures some of our largest corporations are taking to cut carbon pollution – are especially crucial given federal inaction. Such actions:
- put in place policy solutions such as carbon markets that will secure necessary reduction now and offer a roadmap for ambitious federal action when the political winds change.
- help us reduce emissions now, rather than later, which has an important effect on warming in the long-run. Every pound of carbon we prevent today matters.
- help optimize decisions that are already being made today in the power sector and beyond, such as investments in smart grid technology and demand response solutions that save energy and reduce emissions going forward.
Americans are charting their own course
This momentum helps explain why, by the end of 2017, carbon pollution from U.S. power plants had already declined 27 percent below 2005 levels. While the Clean Power Plan is key to achieving reduction targets, it means the sector is already well on its way. The Trump administration’s efforts to reverse such progress are therefore both reckless and irresponsible.
Not only that: We need emissions cuts that go much farther to be able to meet the targets science demands. A growing number of state leaders get that.
It helps explain why a state such as Alaska is exploring ways to reduce emissions and support the Paris Agreement, and why Maryland’s Republican governor decided to join the U.S. Climate Alliance and recently worked with other states to strengthen the region’s carbon market.
Or why New Jersey’s governor recently directed his state to rejoin that carbon market, signed an order adding his state to said alliance, and set the goal to power New Jersey with 100 percent clean energy by mid-century.
So far, 17 states with a combined $9 trillion economy have already pledged to uphold the goals set for the U.S. under Paris, openly bucking Trump’s policy. Several of those states were carried by Trump during the 2016 election.
The truth is, this presidency has – like never before – energized Americans and helped them understand that by protecting our climate, we’re also protecting public health, innovation and economic growth.
Governors, state legislators, mayors, city council members, business leaders and voters from across the political spectrum understand that by investing in clean energy and infrastructure upgrades that help cut emissions, we’re also betting on industries of the future and staying competitive. It means we’re trying out new ideas and staying optimistic.
What could possibly be more American?