A train hauling coal to British Columbia heads north out of Seattle between office buildings and condos in 2012. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
Anyone who’s waiting for federal leadership on climate change isn’t serious about solutions. President Donald Trump has made it painfully clear: It’s on us.
“THIS could be the day the U.S. resigns as leader of the free world,” said Fareed Zakaria on CNN, shortly before President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement on Thursday. But it was too late to quit; the “free world” had already fired us. After Trump’s intransigence at the G-7 meeting the previous week, an exasperated German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”
This collapse of American leadership is frightening. The climate crisis is upon us now, and the Paris Agreement is a tentative but vital step toward meaningful international action. But it’s not entirely clear what Trump’s assault on global cooperation will mean for the climate — that depends in part on how boldly and effectively we respond in our states and cities. What’s more obvious is that Trump has dealt a crushing blow to America’s standing in the world and to our nation’s economic prospects in the race for clean-energy leadership.
In 2015, I joined a delegation of Northwesterners who went to the U.N. climate summit in Paris. Local labor, business, government and civic leaders stood together, representing Northwest determination to deliver concrete solutions in our communities. After nearly two decades of U.S. foot-dragging in the global negotiations, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry gave the world reason to hope for renewed American leadership. They made us proud.
Trump spat on that hope. He has shamed and critically undermined this nation.
But he has not reduced the world’s fledgling determination to confront the climate crisis. More likely, he has fortified it. Already, China and Europe have signed a stronger pact for emission reduction and green development.
Gov. Jay Inslee is Trump’s opposite on climate; he’s forging ahead, not withdrawing. He helped spearhead the announcement of a new U.S. Climate Alliance with California and New York just a few hours after Trump’s retreat from Paris last Thursday. By Monday, nine more states and Puerto Rico had joined the alliance to accelerate state actions.
Local governments around the world are doubling down on their climate initiatives — Portland, Oregon, and Multnomah County committed to 100 percent clean energy while Trump was announcing his decision.
Forward-looking private companies are pushing ahead, positioning for success in the transition to a clean-energy economy. Labor unions and environmental-justice champions are taking leadership roles in designing the transition to a fairer, more sustainable economy, powered by clean energy. The door to continued fossil-fuel dependence is slamming shut as climate impacts worsen, while the prospects for an accelerated clean-energy transition open wider.
Pushing these trends is a strong, broad-based citizens’ movement for climate justice. Trump has galvanized that movement by drawing the battle lines more clearly. The madness of fossil-fuel-expansion-as-usual stands in stark relief now, with a tottering leader to brand it, and a growing popular resistance to fight it.
By lighting a torch to any near-term prospect for leadership from our federal government, Trump is shining a hot light on what was already true: the rest of us have to step it up, way up. We like to pride ourselves on climate action in the Northwest, but the crisis is escalating and the federal government is completely AWOL. We have some local climate-leadership laurels, but not a moment to rest on them.
Washington state played a key role in advancing climate solutions during the Bush years. And well we should, in a state where innovation is the norm, clean energy is a tradition, and economic leadership is an expectation. Our state’s economy thrives because of our climate commitments, not despite them. Clean energy is one of our fastest-growing economic sectors, and conservation is lowering our energy bills while reducing our emissions and providing tens of thousands of good jobs. But in the Obama years, our Legislature got comfortable on the sidelines, shying away from tough actions that might anger deep-pocketed fossil-fuel interests. “It’s a global issue,” they say. “It requires federal action.”
Fair enough; let’s rescue our national democracy and restore the federal government’s capacity to act. But anyone who’s waiting for federal leadership now just isn’t serious about solutions. Trump has made it painfully clear: It’s on us.