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Pittsburgh and Paris join over 200 cities and states rejecting Trump on climate

Posted on 8 June 2017 by dana1981

I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris

So said Donald Trump in a speech justifying his irrational, historically irresponsible decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris international climate treaty. Of course, 75% of Pittsburgh residents voted for Hillary Clinton, and many city residents have since written about the outdatedness and absurdityof Trump’s invocation of Pittsburgh, which aims to be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2035. In fact, Pittsburgh joined 210 other “climate cities”representing 54 million Americans (17% of the national population), pledging:

we will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy.

Yesterday, the mayors of Pittsburgh and Paris co-authored a New York Times editorial rejecting Trump’s efforts to pin the two cities against each other on climate change.

Additionally, 12 states (California, New York, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia) plus Puerto Rico created the US Climate Alliance, committed to upholding the Paris accord. These states represent 97 million Americans – 30% of the national population.

climate states

States joining the US Climate Alliance shown in green. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

More than 1,000 U.S. governors, mayors, investors, universities, and companies joined the “We Are Still In” campaign, pledging to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. And California Governor Jerry Brown has effectively become America’s unofficial climate change ambassador.

What will be the effect on climate change?

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord could have a positive or negative effect on the global climate, depending on how the rest of the world responds. Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief looked at the research on the subject, and found that if the whole world abandons the Paris agreement and continues with business-as-usual fossil fuel burning, we’ll see more than 4°C global warming above pre-industrial temperatures. This would be catastrophic, putting us on a path to a mass extinction event.

Fortunately it appears that we won’t let that happen. Were every country to follow through with Paris pledges made to date, we’d see about 3°C warming, but the agreement also includes a review of countries’ pledges every 5 years. By steadily ratcheting down carbon pollution targets, we could potentially stay below the 2°C Paris target.

Obviously the United States is no longer going to meet its initial Paris pledges. Were America to continue on a no-Paris business-as-usual path, it would add about 0.2–0.3°C to global warming. That may not sound like a lot, but we’re already at 1°C, so the Trump path would eliminate any realistic chance of the world staying below the 2°C danger limit.

However, if the next American president were to sign back on with Paris and renew US climate policy efforts, Hausfather estimates that the lost time under Trump’s reign would have a negligible impact of just 0.01–0.02°C extra global warming. As I noted last week, the 2020 American election will be a climate referendum. Will America endorse or reject Trump’s scorched Earth policy?

It’s also important to note that the Trump effect on global warming will only be minimal as long as the rest of the world follows through with the Paris pledges. There are encouraging signs from major players like China, the EU, and India. However, it’s easy to see how other countries could be discouraged from meeting their targets when the world’s largest historical carbon polluter has announced that it will take no responsibility for its actions.

In coal, Trump picked a big loser

In trying to justify the administration’s Paris withdrawal, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said:

Government regulations shouldn’t be used to pick winners and losers

But of course throughout his campaign and presidency, Trump has explicitly promised to save the dying coal industry. He’s fruitlessly trying to fulfill that pledge by rolling back all regulations and policies that protect public and environmental health from coal pollution, because that pollution has costs. Failing to put a fee on carbon pollution, for example, is effectively a massive trillion dollar government subsidy to the coal and oil industries.

Pruitt also wrongly claimed that we’ve added 50,000 jobs in the coal sector over the past quarter, when in reality there are only 50,000 coal mining jobs in the US in total. That number has been steadily declining for decades due to increased mechanization of the industry, and because other (cleaner) energy sources have become cheaper.

coal mining jobs

Coal mining jobs in the US (1900–2016). Data from the US Federal Reserve and the Energy Information Administration. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

At the same time, renewable energy jobs have been rising, and surpassed coal industry jobs several years ago.

coal vs. solar and wind jobs

US jobs in the coal industry vs. the wind and solar industries (2011–2016). Data from the US Federal Reserve, American Wind Energy Association, and The Solar Foundation. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. "Government regulations shouldn’t be used to pick winners and losers"

    Well agreed, but subsidising or otherwise supporting renewable energy isn't really picking a winner. It is just helping the industry get started when it faces a lot of difficulties beyond what would be normal. For example, this is why Americas government funded and created NASA because it was beyond the private sector but provides benefits to America as a whole.

    It also needs to be said The Republicans subsidise oil and agriculture. However it is very difficult to understand any logical reason to support established oil magnates and millionaire farmers, and there seems to me more logic in supporting renewable energy, at least for a limited time period until it becomes established.

    There is also nothing wrong with government regulations that control use of fossil fuels or tax their use etc. Markets have never self regulated to prevent or  rectify environmental problems, as its easy to pass these problems onto future generations, or some other persons known as the tragedy of the commons problem. Therefore governments have traditionally regulated environmental activity. I dont see why Trump and his team don't understand this.

    It should also be noted Trump is treating the Paris agreement like a hardball businesss negotiation, and this might be ok up to a certain point given nation states have to somehow cooperate and reach agreements. But international environmental agreements are more political agreements, and need a strong spirit of goodwill. Without that they all fail to even get off the ground and playing hardball becomes destructive and will hurt America ultimately if the whole thing breaks down. You have to take a broad and long view of international agreements.

    America under Trump has now become the global renogade, taking a very hostile approach to agreements and indeed everything, and opposing international consensus on all sorts of issues for irrational reasons that beggar belief.

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  2. The basic premise of the Paris accord was noble and good. Reducing man-made pollution is good at any time. The unenforcibility and politically driven wealth redistribution aspects of the treaty is a typical piece of UN work. In their minds it is OK to get the US taxpayer to pay for their expense accounts and to pay for the actions required of smaller nations under a global treaty. No wonder the other countries all signed! Read the text of the treaty before complaining. Its sickening. Can't blame Trump for bagging it! 

    "Climate change" is a political talking point. It creates a focus on only air pollution and neglects all other forms of environmental pollution. Do the readers of this blog really believe that alternative energy is pollution free? Wind and solar consume a huge amount of not only metals, but exotic metals, kills zillions of birds, requires sophisticated metallurgy and manufacturing, and creates a blight on the landscape. As an example, the rare earths required to make the technologies work are principally mined in China without any type of environmental control creating massive damage to local water aquifers and the environment in general. How about the massive consumption of metals for electric cars? That is localized pollution, but its in someone else's back yard. Guess that is OK? Out of sight, out of mind. No carbon footprint?

    Possibly it is time for a re-calibration of the debate to a more balanced total global pollution footprint discussion? Air, water, land?

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Vacuous sloganeering snipped.

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

    [PS] Looks like someone is getting their information about what is in Paris accord from rather biased sources. Could try reading it instead. Also, developed world emissions have created the problem so good luck getting agreement to fix without developed world paying for it.

  3. [JH] Suggested supplemental reading:

    Hawaii rebels against Trump with a law to uphold the spirit of the Paris climate accord by Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2017

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  4. Engineer Jim @2

    I think when you claim the Paris Accord etc is about wealth redistribution, you are reacting a little bit emotively. There is assistance for poor countries and I would see this as more of a pragmatic sort of thing that can be defended on a logical basis. It should also be noted that while you are right poor countries will like this, plenty of rich countries are prepared to participate as well, and its basically the USA now on the outside being paranoid about it.

    I do myself have concerns about the economic philosophies, and I'm not saying you are wrong to voice such concerns, but I don't think it invalidates the Accord as a whole, and is not a sensibe reason to just walk away. The treaty is largely voluntary, and this includes any assistance America gives poor countries, so America can ignore some of these if it really feels it must for whatever reason.

    Trumps actions leaving the Acccord appear more just a rejection of any form of Accord, and looks like points scoring against anything Obama did. There is no other conclusion I can draw especially when you look at the full picture of Trumps actions on everything.

    In any event helping other countries strengthens them economically, and this has some benefits for America. It all churns back into the global economy.

    Yes wind and solar use some rare earth metals just like computers, phones and a thousand other devices today, but I dont hear you say abandon these and go back to the past.

    All power generation technologies have downsides. Hydro power completely alters landscapes, and often requires shifting entire communities and China would be a good example. Coal power releases serious particulate emissions. Nuclear energy has both benefits and risks.

    You haven't really provided any real evidence that renewable energy has more problems than anything else.

    I dont see that windmills using metals is any worse overall than buildings being built of metals. Steel and aluminium are abundant.

    Electirc cars largely rely on lithium and this can be recycled. However theres not much lithium in the batteries and this is not a pressing concern to recycle lithium.

    Rare eath metals can obviously be recycled.

    Its a tough issue because all resources can be depleted and oil certainly wont last forever. However metals can actually be recycled.

    No doubt some of the factories processing rare eath metals or lithium cause pollution, especially factories in developing countries with governments with poor regulatory standards or weak court systems. However surely the solution to this is better quality institutions, as opposed to abandoning using those metals?

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