The United States has officially left the Paris Agreement on climate change, the 2015 pact in which more than 150 nations pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions and support the plans of poor countries in developing clean energy and protections against climate-related disasters.
The June 1, 2017, move by the U.S. flew in the face of worldwide scientific consensus that the Earth is quickly warming due to human activity. In essence, you could say our nation has pulled the covers over its head and is pretending something that is real and imminent isn’t.
But, luckily, the story of how the United States, in this moment in time, worked to mitigate the effects of climate change and stave off catastrophe doesn’t end there.
And, luckily, our country has people like you, me, and your mayors and governors.
Your hotter home
In a study published in Nature Climate Change on May 29, 2017, three days before the president’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, researchers analyzed climate data from the largest 1,692 cities in the world and found that since 1950, 27 percent of them—home to 65 percent of the urban population—have been warming faster than the globe as a whole.
That’s partially due to the urban heat island effect: the tendency for cities to be warmer than the surrounding landscape because asphalt and concrete trap and radiate heat. The researchers concluded that previous studies that failed to take the urban heat island effect into account have likely underestimated the impacts of climate change on cities.
The findings also revealed that about 20 percent of the world’s cities could see an increase in average temperature of at least 4 degrees Celsius by 2050 and 25 percent could warm by 7 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century. Such excess heat would damage the cities’ economic strength, draining 2.3 percent to 6.5 percent of the average city’s wealth by 2100. The worst-affected city could lose 10.9 percent of its wealth. That translates into a loss of infrastructure, jobs and social services, among other resources.
That means that our mayors have a lot at stake, as do our governors. Fortunately for us, a lot of them are going to do something about it.
Climate mayors, governors and subnationals
Within days—in some cases, minutes—of the Paris Agreement withdrawal announcement, 350 mayors and a dozen states joined together in promising to uphold the terms of the landmark global agreement and assume global leadership roles in the fight against climate change. Mayors from cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and San Francisco released a statement promising to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”
Their communication mentioned a series of specific aims, such as more electric vehicles, cutting emissions and making investments in renewable energy, which is now cheaper than fossil fuels and far better for the environment.
One of the most vocal voices in opposition to the administration’s decision is California Governor Jerry Brown’s. He says his state is “ready for battle.”
Brown, along with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, has now formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, described as “a coalition that will convene U.S. states committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change.” So far, 13 states have signed on.
Together, the states participating in the climate alliance represent more than 35.9 percent of the total U.S. gross domestic product and are home to 30.6 percent of our population, which makes the coalition powerful enough to ensure that the U.S. has at least a de facto, if not official, commitment to climate change action.
Five days ago, Governor Brown announced that in September 2018, San Francisco will host a Climate Action Summit that will bring together city and state leaders, businesses that have made pledges to curb heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, and thousands of others who were galvanized by the current administration’s positon. Some are even suggesting that the meeting should include Canada, Mexico and “like-minded states and subnationals from around the world.” According to Governor Brown’s office, the summit meeting will be the first time an American state has hosted an international climate change conference with the direct goal of supporting the Paris Agreement.
Shortly after this announcement, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg published an open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris Agreement. It had more than 1,200 signatures from those declaring, “We are still in” the climate deal.
Summer 2017 is projected to be among the hottest years in more than 130 years of record-keeping. If you, like me, are feeling the heat, let’s help these governors and mayors who have publicly committed to unmaking the bed the president wants us to lie in. Let’s help them throw off those heavy covers.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,