We’re Better Than This

As Trump backs away from the climate fight, leaders gathered at the Global Climate Action Summit are taking the reins.

NRDC President Rhea Suh speaking at a discussion about the New York Times Magazine’s “Losing Earth”

Elijah Nouvelage for NRDC

Even as President Trump tries to roll back climate progress at the national level, our states, cities, and businesses are pressing forward, giving the country a fighting chance to keep the promise we made, as a nation, nearly three years ago in Paris. 

That’s the upshot of an affirming report released Wednesday at the opening of the three-day Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. I’m here as one of more than 4,000 delegates from around the world. We’ve gathered to say we’re going to protect our kids from the growing dangers of climate change—and we won’t be turned around.

With states, cities, and businesses filling the leadership vacuum, the United States is on track to cut its carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. If we build on this momentum, we can deepen those cuts to 24 percent.

In other words, despite the backsliding in Washington, we’re within striking distance of being able to cut U.S. emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025, the pledge President Obama made in Paris. There can be no substitute for national action. What’s key now, though, is that we find ways to keep reaching higher, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

California governor Jerry Brown set the tone on Monday when he signed landmark legislation putting the Golden State on a path toward getting 100 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources like the wind and sun by 2045. Think of it. If California were a country, it would have the world’s fifth-largest economy, just ahead of France. And in our lifetime, it will get all its electricity without the dangerous carbon pollution that’s driving global climate change.

Leading by example is what this week’s summit is all about. Governor Brown is one of six cochairs of the summit, along with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who now serves as the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for climate action. His foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, authored the report on how state, city, and business climate action has formed a powerful counter to Trump’s refusal to lead. The report includes a policy tool kit laying out 10 key strategies to help leaders at any level form local plans to help fight climate change.

It’s a fitting antidote to the dispiriting news coming out of the White House this summer. In July, California experienced its hottest month since global record-keeping began in 1880. Of the 10 worst wildfires in the state’s history, two have occurred this summer, part of a harrowing series of blazes that have burned more than half a million acres in California this year alone, enough to cover a third of the state of Delaware

The Global Climate Action Summit

And yet, while fires rage, storms pound our coastal communities, coral reefs die, entire species face extinction, and temperatures soar, Trump works to gut the commonsense measures we’ve taken, as a country, to clean up our dirty power plants, reduce carbon pollution from our cars and trucks, and fight the climate-wrecking methane constantly leaking from oil and gas operations. It’s a mind-numbing betrayal of the needs of our world and the priorities of our citizens, 64 percent of whom expect our government to do more to fight climate change, not less. 

Certainly that’s the focus this week in San Francisco.

On Tuesday night, I had the honor of joining journalist Nathaniel Rich and photographer George Steinmetz for a panel discussion on their article for the New York Times Magazine, “Losing Earth,” a sobering anatomy of the signal failure of U.S. policymakers to take needed climate action during the 1980s. Three decades on, we’re still struggling to get this right. 

From left: Pulitzer Center executive director Jon Sawyer, journalist Nathaniel Rich, photographer George Steinmetz, and NRDC President Rhea Suh at the “Losing Earth” discussion

Elijah Nouvelage for NRDC

“I don’t think we’ve developed a moral framework for thinking about climate change,” said Rich. “We’re talking about nothing less than the fate of civilization—all we love and all we are.”

As Trump backs away from the climate fight, Rich has posed a haunting set of questions. Is this who we are? Is this all we are? Is this the very best we can be? There’s really only one right answer: We’re better than this. We owe our children better. And that means we have to do better.

And, while that’s not what we’re hearing from Washington, it’s what we’re seeing across this country, in our states, cities, and businesses.

About the Authors

Rhea Suh

Former President

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