The health and safety of Americans and their families is just a game to Donald Trump. On June 1, 2017, he announced—with a televised, grand reveal in the White House Rose Garden—that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. By doing so, Trump hopes to fulfill one of his devastating campaign promises to roll back critical climate and health protections, at the expense of the American public and of generations to come. Trump announced the U.S. will withdraw from Paris despite widespread opposition to pulling out by the American public, the business community, advocates, and even political leaders from both parties.
The hard truth is that Donald Trump, while he occupies the White House, has the power to pull out of the Paris Agreement, and there’s little Congress or anyone else can do to stop it. But that doesn’t mean that you and your group can’t do more. Below are recommendations on how you can work to protect the environment at the local and state levels.
This Document Covers the Following Topics:
- Background on the Paris Agreement
- The Trump Announcement to Withdraw from Agreement
- Impact of Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement
- Congressional Asks and Why They’re Not Enough
- Fighting Back at the State and Local Levels
In 2015, thanks to the global leadership of the U.S., 195 countries adopted the Paris Agreement, the first truly global agreement to take action to combat climate change. Unlike previous efforts, which gave a pass to China and other developing countries, the Paris Agreement requires all countries to put forward climate action targets and report on their progress. Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. pledged to cut its carbon pollution by 26-28% by 2025 to do its part to address climate change, and to look at deeper cuts in the future. Every country in the world except Nicaragua and Syria supports the Agreement—that is, until Trump.
The United States led the way in brokering a deal that all countries could sign on to and that would still hold everyone accountable. We played this role not just because of our global leadership, but also because we recognized public opinion, national security implications, the importance of liveable communities today and a breathable planet for our children, and because the agreement would create new American jobs.
Even though Donald Trump announced he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, doing so is a complicated process. The provisions of the agreement mean that the decision announced on June 1st won’t become official until November 2020. Although Trump’s announcement won’t take immediate legal effect, in practice the U.S. will immediately become an international pariah. We will lose credibility internationally, we will face an immediate diplomatic backlash, and we will lose jobs in the process. Trump’s insistence on getting a better deal for America is an excuse to abdicate responsibility for climate action, and his suggestion that he may re-negotiate a new agreement is laughable—the Paris Agreement took years in the making, and other countries won’t trust the U.S. not to walk away from yet another climate agreement.
This is no exaggeration: pulling out of the Paris Agreement puts every single American in danger. It will mean greater health risks for you and your family, including increases in asthma attacks, heart attacks, and lung cancer. It’ll mean a reduction in good paying jobs and lower economic productivity. And it will mean grave threats to our national security. It’s a lose-lose.
Below are just a few of the many ways that Trump has endangered you and your family by pulling out of the Paris Agreement:
- Bad for jobs. Clean energy jobs are growing 12 times faster than the overall economy and Trump’s anti-climate policies puts at risk nearly 3 million clean energy jobs across the U.S., including 1.2 million clean energy jobs in states that voted for Trump.
- Bad for U.S. competitiveness. American businesses will lag behind, as countries like China step up to take global leadership in energy innovation and cutting edge technologies.
- Bad for health. Not following through on the U.S. pledge to cut carbon pollution means more Americans breathing dirty air. The Clean Power Plan, which was only one part of the Obama Administration plan to reach the targets set by the Paris Agreement, would have prevented 90,000 asthma attacks in kids every year, saved thousands of lives, and had numerous other health benefits.
- Bad for global relations. By refusing to do our share on climate, even our allies will see the U.S. as a bad actor. Our closest allies urged Trump not to leave the Agreement, and some foreign governments have raised the possibility of putting tariffs on U.S. goods as retribution.
- Bad for national security. Climate change impacts food security, can trigger mass waves of migration, and is likely to destabilize countries with weak governments around the globe. Destabilized countries can become breeding grounds for terrorist groups. National security experts from the Reagan, Bush, Obama, and even the Trump Administrations all agree: climate change is a risk to national security.
- Bad for the climate. The U.S. is the second biggest polluter—emitting more than the next three biggest polluters combined—and without doing our share, global climate catastrophe cannot be avoided. Climate change is already impacting the most vulnerable, and Trump’s reckless act only increases risk of extreme sea level rise, worsening health epidemics, more Hurricane Sandys and Katrinas, and other side effects of climate change.
Indivisible believes that Congress should never sit on the sidelines when our communities are put in danger—and indeed, pulling out of the Paris Agreement and other international climate efforts puts every American in danger. Members of Congress can and should do more. They can speak out in support of the Paris Agreement and they can pass legislation requiring that the U.S. meet, and even go beyond, the targets in the Paris Agreement. But as former Congressional staffers, we also know a hard truth: there are certain situations in which Congress is essentially powerless to stop a harmful executive policy from being implemented. This is one of those situations.
Real Talk: the bottom line is Congress doesn't have much power here. You would need a filibuster-proof majority to pass legislation forcing Trump to reverse course, something that we just don’t have. With that said, there are still actions you can take to make sure your Members of Congress are doing more to defend the environment:
- More than 20 Republican senators have been urging Trump to leave the Paris Agreement. If your senator signed on to this letter, hold them accountable.
- Conversely, more than 40 Democratic senators signed onto this letter in support of staying in the Paris Agreement. Thank them for their support.
- Ask your Members of Congress to cosponsor the Senate and House resolutions in support of remaining in the Paris Agreement.
- The Trump budget, which is a disaster for the environment, slashes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31%. Tell your Members of Congress to reject these massive cuts that jeopardize our environment and our public health, and instead tell them to support common-sense climate action in the budget process by adequately funding the EPA, foreign assistance for climate adaptation, energy research, and job retraining programs.
- Tell your Members of Congress that you don't want “a better deal”—you want America to follow through on climate action that will help, not harm, the economy.
In short, keep pressing your MoCs to do more on climate change. But make sure you’re also working locally, where you can have the most impact.
We can meet the targets set in Paris even as Trump tries to stand in the way. In fact, we can get 60% of the way to Paris goals without any federal policy. State and local governments must take the lead on climate action in the absence of federal leadership, and indeed, they already are. Although we normally focus on congressional advocacy, this is a case where it makes a lot of sense to fight back at lower levels of government, too. Fortunately, the basic political laws of gravity we described in the Indivisible Guide apply to your state and local elected officials too: they wake up every morning thinking “How am I going to get reelected.”
Connect with Local Groups and Campaigns. The most important thing you can do is plug into existing campaigns, like the ones a number of national organizations are leading on the ground at the state and local level. We recommend reaching out to these groups to understand what the best approach might be in your city and state. Here are just a few suggestions of where to get started, both by getting directly connected locally or to learn more:
- The Sierra Club has a chapter in every state
- League of Conservation Voters has state affiliates in 29 states
- NextGen Climate
- Environmental Defense Fund
- Natural Resources Defense Council
Focus on Cities and States. In the absence of national leadership on climate change, states and cities are committing to upholding the standards of the Paris Agreement, doing their part to address climate change, standing with their constituents—and against Trump. At the state level, call on your governor to sign a Global Climate Leadership Memorandum of Understanding with the Under2 Coalition, a group of 167 cities, states and countries committed to slashing greenhouse gas emissions, which commits your local government to take concrete steps to reduce carbon pollution. Here are a few other ways you can get active locally:
- Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 provides resources to help advocate for commitments to achieve 100% renewable energy. And it’s Beyond Coal Campaign is working on replacing dirty coal plants with clean energy alternatives.
- The Mayors National Climate Action Agenda represents mayors from over 75 U.S. cities working together on this issue, and even has some example climate action plans.
- Call on your state’s governor, city mayor, or county executive to issue an executive order or commitment to uphold the Paris Agreement in spite of Trump’s choice to pull out, similar to the one made by New York’s mayor.
Donald Trump and his supporters are celebrating the announcement that the U.S. will leave the Paris Agreement. While the “nationalist wing” of the White House has seemingly secured a victory, America is the big loser. But you can change this. You can fill the gap by continuing to resist locally. We are winning, and we will win on climate, too.