Portlandia: Climate Action was Already Local. So, Crank it to 11
November 11, 2016
And, let’s put a bird on it.
Trump can attempt to reverse the Clean Power Plan, though that would also require lengthy court battles and a new regulatory proceeding. But he can slow the plan down, and can say he’s not going to enforce it. Executive orders and executive actions—like President Obama’s moratorium on coal leases on federal land—would be easier to overturn.
It’s possible he’ll change his mind, since he isn’t deeply ideological. But even if he doesn’t do the maximum amount of damage possible, it’s also very unlikely that he’ll do what’s needed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Even meeting the Paris agreement, scientists say, wouldn’t go quite far enough.
The good news: Businesses, along with state and city governments, can help fill at least some of that gap and drive climate action themselves. And that’s already happening.
“We’ve got hundreds of CEOs and hundreds of the world’s biggest businesses fully committed to act on climate, both the risks and opportunities,” says Nigel Topping, head of a U.K.-based climate coalition called We Mean Business. “They’re working in a context where their competitors are all going in the same direction because of Paris and local regulations. I think largely the course has been set by major businesses.”
Last week, Walmart announced a new target to cut its emissions in line with the Paris agreement, making an 18% reduction in its own operations by 2025. By 2030, all of its suppliers will have to do the same thing, reducing emissions by a gigaton
It’s one of hundreds of major corporations to commit to climate action. Many, like Apple, Facebook, and General Motors, have committed to transitioning to 100% renewable energy (by 2015, Apple had already reached 93% renewable energy). That offsets a large amount of power that otherwise might have come from fossil fuels, and it’s also beginning to reshape how state governments think about their power grids.
“If you’re the governor of a state and you want companies to build plants and run facilities, and you know they’re committed to 100% renewable energy, it changes the politics of renewable portfolio standards,” says Topping. “That’s jobs and it’s tax. It’s a political decision, not an environmental one.”
The business and finance communities may also resist a push for more support for the coal industry from Trump. “The fact of the matter is, I don’t think coal is really cost-competitive anymore,” says Ken Berlin, president and CEO of the Climate Reality Project, Al Gore’s organization dedicated to fighting climate change. “I don’t know if any American bank would finance another coal plant. I think the day of coal is really coming to an end, unless [Trump] figures out a way to give it subsidies, which I think he’d probably have a very hard time justifying.”
Trump takes the office having lost the popular vote, and in a country where climate action is already supported by a large majority of all Americans, and by overwhelming majorities on the West Coast.
State, regional and local governments already have enormous power to change climate policies. And in Blue America, the political will already existsfor bold and decisive climate action.
States can follow in the footsteps of the California’s bold new climate action laws. California, in turn can step up its own efforts, adding serious housing development policies, strict smart growth rules, rewriting obsolete anti-development laws and encouraging a rapid shift away from auto-dependence.
Most boldly, states can implement their own carbon taxes. (I’m not going to go into the ins-and-outs of Washington State’s disastrous failure this year to pass the nation’s best carbon tax, except to say I think it actually proves the viability of state-level approaches.)
If set high enough, started soon enough and raised fast enough, state-level carbon taxes could have a transformative effect on their economies. Given that California, New York, Illinois, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and the New England states alone make up roughly half the U.S. economy, changing these states’ carbon prices inevitably means changing the national economy as well.
Today we saw the beginning of the transfer of power to the President-elect.
While the prerogatives of victory are clear, so also are the responsibilities to ensure a strong and unified America. As President Lincoln said, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ With the deep divisions in our country, it is incumbent on all of us – especially the new leadership in Washington – to take steps that heal those divisions, not deepen them. In California, we will do our part to find common ground whenever possible.
But as Californians, we will also stay true to our basic principles. We will protect the precious rights of our people and continue to confront the existential threat of our time – devastating climate change.